MUTTON prices hit record levels last week as export processors fought to fill orders from declining saleyard offerings.
At the Hamilton saleyards on Thursday, JM Ellis & Co auctioneer James Pike set a new national saleyard record of $311 for wethers when he sold eight crossbreds from Waratah Pastoral at Cavendish to Fletcher International Exports.
Two other lines of wethers also sold for $300 or more at Hamilton, with Landmark auctioneer Sam Savin selling crossbred wethers for $301 and the Elders team securing $300 for another line.
In the same sale, Landmark also sold composite ewes from the Wombell family at Digby for $296.
Meat & Livestock Australia confirmed that according to its saleyard data, the $311 was a national record for wethers.
First cross ewes 18.1-24kg dressed sold for an estimated 933c/kg at Hamilton, but MLA said the national carcase weight record for ewes stands at 989c/kg, set on 31 July last year.
An MLA spokesman said mutton prices are strengthening due to a sharp shortage in numbers, processors are competing extensively to keep plants operating, reflected in the trajectory of both lamb and sheep prices.
“It’s unlikely supplies will increase in the months ahead,” he said.
“Demand looks to be holding, mutton exports to the US in January were particularly strong.”
After Thursday’s saleyard sales, the Eastern States Daily Indicator for mutton closed at 717c/kg, up 23 cents since Wednesday, 54 cents higher than last week, 124 cents up on a month ago and 304 cents higher than at this time last year.
Mr Pike estimated the $311 wethers had an estimated carcase weight of about 40kg.
“I wasn’t expecting $311, it got to $301 last week, so I asked $295 and it got to $311, so that just goes to show how good that job was yesterday for the heavy end.”
Mr Savin said the $296 price would be a record for Hamilton.
“It was records all round.
“We’ll take while it’s here,” he said.
He said the mutton sale followed a top offering of lambs on Wednesday, where lines made up to $320.
Mr Savin wondered whether processors would soon be forced to wind back kills due to the lower numbers of sheep.
“I just don’t think the numbers are going to be around.
“We’ve got blokes plucking them out from underneath lemon trees and out of orchards and underneath woolsheds everywhere – everything is getting sold,” he said.
Hamilton agents yarded 11,443 sheep yesterday, 3010 fewer than last week. The National Livestock Reporting Service said the overall quality was very similar to last week with not as many heavy and extra heavy crossbreeds, but more lighter sheep.
All the regular buyers operating in a market that was dearer for heavy and extra heavy sheep by $20 and $5-$10 higher for medium weights. Merino mutton and medium crossbreds averaged around 750-780c/kg cwt and the heavy weight sheep made 780-800c/kg.
Light 1 and 2 score ewes made from $108-$136. Medium weight 2 and 3 score ewes sold from $134-$212. Heavy 3 and 4 score ewes made $221-$297.
Light 1 and 2 score wethers sold from $122-$150. Medium weight 2 and 3 score wethers made $170-$232. Heavy and extra heavy wethers, 3 and 4 scores sold for $248-$311. Hoggets made $124-$219. Merino rams sold from $110-$170 and other breeds made $30-$70.
After today’s sales, the eastern states daily mutton indicator had risen just one cent to 718c/kg.