Prime & Store Sheep Reports

Feeding sheep, EID and training for carbon

Chris Howie, March 13, 2024

Chris Howie.

FEEDING towards a result is important to have sheep ready for the demand as we head towards late autumn, Chris Howie advises in his latest industry wrap.

Hindsight can help you in the future – The trades appearing from October and November are truly fantastic. Many with a wool clip to boot. Merino wether lambs have killed the pig with one trade last week on $20 lambs from November returning $105 – clear. The science was looking at the opportunity, taking a contract, feeding well and delivering a quality carcass – with no seed.

Processor bagged lamb orders continue to drive the 14-20kg dressed carcase lamb price. These orders reward light store lambs that have been freshened up providing a tasty return in a short time.

Sheep and lamb pricing always flops around in March. Maybe a tick here and there on rain but normally the pricing ebbs and flows with contracts starting to appear for April and May deliveries.

Feeding towards a result is important to have sheep ready for the demand as we head towards late autumn. The smell of diesel and the words John Deere, Case and Lanz Bulldog seem to get in the way of creating margins on sheep that are already in the paddock.

Lamb contracts signed in late December early January are paying dividends for those that purchased in November and locked in. Prices have eased now with the most recent contracts ranging from $6.20-$6.80/kg cwt depending on breed and end user. What we have seen though is a significant tightening of the weight ranges. Again, this always happens on grids when the numbers are available but once supply shortens the specification range opens very quickly.

Reg Woodiwiss, Webb and Woodiwiss Livestock Marketing said the Tasmanian season has seen hooks rates ease back to $5.80/kg and excellent runs of store lambs, first cross and composite ewe lambs coming available.

Lamb producers seem relatively comfortable with the weekly fluctuations but the sheep producers are not. Speaking to agents and producers over the last two weeks, I am concerned about how many are questioning the viability of staying in sheep. The recent $40-$50 correction on mutton does not correlate with many, considering the mutton export numbers reported at the same time are well up.

One producer said he sold one mob of his ewes for $81 and the following week the better ewes made $44. A movement of $10-$15 is normal, but the big hits are doing none of the industry any good in the short or long-term.

Procrastination and indecision – The electronic identification conversation for sheep continues to get bogged down with anyone that can pick up a spoon stirring the soup. I still struggle to comprehend why a simple plan of execution cannot be outlined that is mandatory across all states.

Perhaps we do need someone to bang the table and say “the plan is the plan” instead of dodging the hard calls. Stop trying to please all and sundry that have little idea of the transactional process for sheep. The hardware and software selection lives with the states and then moves down to the agencies and farmers.

Wagga Wagga has our largest sheep saleyard centre in Australia with carriers and agents who are experts at moving large numbers in one day. However, we are starting to see yards like Cootamundra not prepared to continue with the capital expenditure that is required under the current EID proposal. In turn Wagga, Corowa, Dubbo, Bendigo etc need to handle far greater numbers. This floods the livestock transporters still trying to move sheep and lambs on Saturdays and Sundays.

Risk transfer. The push to extinguish the legal and highly regulated enterprise of live export in Western Australia continues even though more countries are enquiring about Australian live sheep for their food security and the exported numbers are going up significantly.

The only significant loss recently was when the regulators ordered the unloading of cattle and sheep into a Perth heat wave of 43 degrees Celsius. The exporter had maintained these stock in excellent order and leaving them on the ship was the only sensible option. I have noticed the advisors to the government have not made any comments about this, or mentioned the need to truck livestock normally live exported from WA to the east to access better pricing. Even the processors are concentrating on the WA volumes, with one company consigning 19 loads in one week back to the eastern states.

Change of colour – After 50 years with the red team a good friend of mine, Kevin Thompson, Wycheproof, Victoria, has moved to the green. In my job I get to see a lot of auctioneers from all over the country. The store sheep auctioneer I have always thought is the top of the tree when it comes to hard days, well-timed pauses, description and humour to get vendors the best result. Kevin lives in the top four auctioneers have seen over the past 40 years. Gary Nowlan, my mentor and since passed, with Jeff Howie in SA with Chris Hartley in WA.

Carbon training and caution

Last week we had 26 new agents, IT developers, financiers and meat processors from all over Australia attend the RMA/MLA Agency and Supply chain train at Wodonga TAFE in Wodonga.

Part of the training is a new assessment introduced this year, implement and monitor environmentally sustainable work practices – in a nutshell, carbon.

With the support of Mark Inglis, farm assurance and sustainability manager from Thomas Foods International (and architect of MSA) the complexity of this ever-growing area was outlined to the group with support from Keely Kovacevic, adoption capability building project manager at MLA.

What I took from these two brilliant presentations and the subsequent assessment completion was the complexity of this arena and the absolute need to deliver to farmers and the agricultural industry to a simple entry point that helps us learn without being overwhelmed. MLA has a good calculator to assist you getting started. Even in this simple form it is quite daunting on your first attempt but once you have completed it your business will have a starting point for the future.

Carbon caution. On the other end of the scale are a significant number of dog traps that are deliberately making the carbon story so complex that many will be caught by selling carbon that they will need in the future. Read that very fine print on the contract and ensure the program you are signing up for hasn’t already “sold” your perceived gains to old mate overseas. Short term gain with long term pain maybe the outcome for those grabbing cash early. Your carbon credits are your future access key to markets that don’t even know how to apply the number yet.


Ballarat’s TB White & Sons, livestock manager Xavier Bourke, Everett Sealy & Bennetts director, Pakenham, Jarrod Bennetts, Jack Kelly, JJ Kelly & Co, Mortlake all had a very busy February along with the many other agencies in the cattle and sheep yards. The weaner sales had all yards at capacity and every contact in the list was being called to find orders. The easing of price in the north saw freight become a significant inhibitor for those orders we saw in early January. Steers maintained solid $2.90-$3.40/kg with the odd higher. However, over the month we saw heifers ease back towards $2.60-$2.70/kg. The quality of yarding’s was outstanding although with sadness we see the closure of Pakenham as housing and land tax push them out.

Having a go – I remember Elders company Agent Don Bowman yarding a big run of Brahman calves at Pakenham with Elders Pakenham livestock auctioneer, Carlo Taranto in charge of the line-up. A big play considering loud bellows for mum, humps and big ears were not a regular feature in the deep south. Broken up into colours and size the baby Brahmans saw a lot of agents waiting for a train wreck. However, a solid order from South Australia and the cuteness factor for many hobby farmers saw the sale go like a firecracker. Smiles all round, but again, now just a story from the past.

The Mountain Calf sales at Hinnomunjie (950), Omeo, Benambra and Ensay (7750) are a feature every year that are the launching pad for the NSW and Tasmanian sales. Steers made $1100-$1200, topping at $1810. Heifers made $740-$890, topping at $1400. As always the quality of the Herefords shines at these sales and was reflected in price and weight.

Ron Rutledge Nutrien Livestock, Victoria finalised a big sale of over 1200 Angus calves last week for a client in Tasmania at the first Powranna sale for what I consider money equivalent to the mainland less freight. 400 kg steers $3.20-$3.40/kg, 160-200kg steers $3.45-$3.65/kg. Heifers followed the mainland trends $2.40 – $2.70. with support from locals, feedlots and Victoria. Heifers brought as breeders were definitely paid for; however, the second runs and coloured cattle were very buyable. Worth a trip for the next sales I think.

Reg Woodiwiss, Webb & Woodiwiss Livestock Marketing said the season is tight in southern Tasmania with limited to no rain since November. In an area that normally absorbs its own livestock well-bred runs of weaners are available over the next four weeks and worth a call.

Sales start in NSW this week, with fixtures for the next few weeks at Inverell, Carcoar, Tamworth, Glen Innes, Gunnedah, Dunedoo and Dubbo. Many of these sales were traditional April fixtures but additional weight in the calves and capturing the buyers make good sense to roll early.

Phillip Frame, now Frame Rural Agencies, Inverell was a driver of weaning calves before sale in 2002. This practice was a very hard sell but over the last 22 years has seen performance of weaners post sale improve in leaps and bounds across all states. I remember all the Inverell agents at the time having the discussion about selling in cents per kilo because we were worried $2/kg would frighten buyers. This change made buyers bid with more confidence and the sale topped at $2.30/kg which was a price never seen before. It surprises me that some centres which have scales have reverted to dollars per head again.

Following up with Gerald Wetherall, Westcoast Rural Livestock manager in WA, and cattle prices have started to ease on the back of continued heat and water becoming an issue in some areas. The activity from the East was greatly appreciated with many weaners, feeders and cows making the trip across the flat. With spelling yards now situated on the Eyre Peninsula in SA the science of moving and resting stock is an integral part of a successful trade.

Before Xmas we saw an uptick of cattle being put into feed lots. This aligned to the 120 – 150 day exits from April onwards. I see the numbers are now reported at 1.3 million on grain leading into the seasonal quality short supply period. Vertically integrated processor feedlots have become the shock absorber that flattens price spikes out, but they also indicate future demand. Excellent forward marketing opportunity to lock trade margins in on cattle that perform is also created. We may see price movements a bit later than the April tick I forecast but I am pretty certain it is coming.

Looking over the fence. It is in our nature to think we are the only ones having a bad day. Families,  business, sport, relationships. Too often we put pressure on ourselves because we think everyone else has Fairy bread and crayfish for dinner and it is only me that has issues.

Keep things balanced and look for the solution. Sometimes the issue is further upstream and we have no control over it.

As an example, several of the new beef chains being commissioned have run into issues from mechanical changes to IT systems that has significantly reduced through put and planned slaughter requirements.

Over the fence is not always as green as you think, sometimes that’s where the septic overflow lives.

First rant for the year. A simple fix for the regional doctor shortage – no tax for five years (Distance tiered) if you commit to three years as a resident doctor for a town more than 200km from the capital GPO. Not fly in or fly out. If the doctor is found to be rorting the system immediate 7 years jail.

When did it become acceptable for 5 and 6 year-olds to hit teachers? Why doesn’t the school system immediately throw the kid out and let the parents sort them? Not push the parenting blame back onto the great crew who are teachers not bloody social welfare workers.

Unacceptable youth crime -There are several video games being played by young kids that should have been banned 15 years ago. I remember playing one of them with my son and saying this is not right and we took it away. This rubbish we are seeing from teenagers is a direct reflection of what these games are – Baiting police in stolen cars, bashing innocent people, violence and theft. Simple solution – Judges order those convicted to be sprayed with non washable Redye so they are publicly shamed for 2 weeks – hopefully longer. Maybe they aren’t as tough when not in a gang and bright red or whatever colour best suits.

Plenty of countries do it for voting – dip finger in dye so you can’t vote again.


Heifers are worth the money

Scanned in lamb ewes – very good buying

Heavy store lambs

Merino lambs with 35mm of wool or better

Grain feeding lambs – but do it properly and avoid acidosis.

Weaners in the North

Weaners in Tasmania

Cow and calf units to split

Buy as the market eases – don’t wait for the bounce.

Get your finance in place to grab the opportunities

Cash in your bet on Collingwood winning another flag

Dye underaged criminals


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