LAMB prices stepped back from record levels this week, as weather-disrupted supplies from Tasmania resumed, yardings at some major centres rose and export price resistance grew.
Stock agents are most lambs and sheep available for sale are being channelled to saleyards after prices reached historic levels, but not all processors operated at some saleyards this week.
Exporters are reporting flat demand for lambs from the United States waned at the previous two weeks’ record price levels and skin values have dropped in response to the US-China tariff trade tensions.
Light, trade and heavy lamb prices generally fell $10-$30 a head in saleyards early this week and mutton sheep prices fell by $5-$15 depending on quality.
Managing director of specialist skin buying company Knox International, Adrian Knox, said sheep and lamb skin values have fallen over recent weeks.
“They’ve hit a bottom in our opinion and they’ve sort of steadied or maybe paused for a slight improvement, but I think it will be slight and slow.”
Mr Knox said skin values started to fall two weeks about the time United States president Donald Trump said he would impose new trade tariffs on Chinese goods. China is the main destination for Australia’s sheep skins.
“Good shorn crossbred lamb skins were making $8-$8.50 and the same lamb skins today would be making $4.50 – that’s for skins with close to two inches of wool and good quality.”
Mr Knox said crossbred lamb skins have almost halved in value in about two weeks.
“Merino lamb skins are down in dollar terms about as much, but nowhere near in percentage terms.
“A $16-$17 1-2 inch Merino skin today would be making $14-$15, if it was lucky,” he said.
“The Chinese just panicked I think, we saw a very swift failure to even acknowledge offers, not even low bids or anything, the market stopped.
“There were absolutely no sales for nearly two weeks, with the Chinese almost refusing to entertain offers.”
He said trading in skins kicked off early last week at lower levels.
“We are now seeing reasonable purchasing from different Australian buyers across different tenders and skin sales, so that gives us an opinion that there is still some broader-based demand there.”
Mr Knox said the wool market “coming off” in reaction to the US-China trade tensions also impacted skin values.
“The finer wools have recovered on the Australian wool market and from what I am being told in China the Chinese domestic market for wool produced off skins hasn’t really recovered, but it hasn’t fallen any further.”
But Mr Knox said the market is “starting to get its head around” the coming shortage in slaughter stock.
“I think lots of people will try to increase stocks, not decrease stocks.”
He expects Merino skin values to recover and crossbred lamb prices will hold at close to current levels and not move lower, to maybe firm slightly toward the end of the season.
“I wouldn’t expect any massive improvement, because I don’t think there has been any great improvement in the mid-range wool qualities in China – the 54-58 count wools.”
He said the Russian skin demand is very quiet and some go to Turkey, but he estimated China is taking at least 90pc of Australia’s lamb and sheep skins.
Livestock transporter Geoff Page said on Monday that lamb and sheep shipments from Tasmania were now going “flat out” after being disrupted by weather last week.
“We missed two days last week and every day since has been flat out.”
He shipped about 4500 lambs across the Bass Trait on the weekend and there would be shipments every day totalling about 20,000 sheep and lambs with his company this week. His company handles more than half the sheep and lambs shipped from the state to the mainland direct to works.
“But give us another month and we will be sitting on our a…. doing nothing.”
However, Rodwells Bendigo livestock manager Nick Byrne said about 450 lambs from Tasmania to be sold at the Bendigo saleyards this Monday didn’t make it onto the boat for the trip across the strait. He said lambs at Bendigo sold up to $20-$35 cheaper, but good heavy lambs still made more than 800c/kg and heavy trades around 900c/kg.
After Tuesday’s saleyard sales, the Eastern States Daily Indicators for all classes of lambs and for mutton fell for the second consecutive sale day. The indicator falls for the last two days for lambs were: restocker, down 9 cents to 855c/kg; Merinos, down 37 cents to 784c/kg; light, down 42 cents to 807c/kg; trade, down 21 cents to 868c/kg and heavy lambs, down 30 cents to 897c/kg. The mutton indicator fell 6 cents over the last two days to 592c/kg.
In New South Wales, at the Dubbo saleyards on Monday, agents yarded 27,600 lambs, 10,370 more than last week, and 9200 sheep, 430 more.
The National Livestock Reporting Service said the yarding increased after the very strong markets over the past weeks and the fact there is no sale next Monday due to the long weekend.
The NLRS said it was another good quality yarding, with good numbers of outstanding heavy weight lambs, along with fair numbers of trade weights. There were also some top runs of well-finished Merino lambs. Not all the regular buyers were present, with the absence of a major supermarket operator and a southern export processor.
Light weight lambs-the processors were $9-$12 cheaper, with the 12-18kg 2 scores making from $74-$158. Trade lambs were $17-$20 cheaper, with the 18-23kg 3 scores making from $150-$235-average from 850c and 900c/kg cwt. Heavy weight lambs weighing 24-26kg were $9 cheaper, while the heavier weights were close to firm. The 24-30kg lambs sold from $190-$301 and the over 30kg lambs made $280-$322, to average 925c/kg. Merino lambs were up to $20 cheaper, with the trade weight Merinos making from $115-$217, while the heavy weight Merinos sold from $226-$240. Restocker lambs were firm, receiving from $80-$178. Hoggets sold-$210.
Dubbo’s light weight Merino sheep were $2-$5 dearer, the better medium and heavy weight sheep were $8-$15 cheaper. The 1 and 2 score ewes sold from $34-$113 and the better 3 and 4 score crossbreds made $115-$231 and full-fleece Merinos sold to $228. Merino wethers sold to $215. Carcase prices for the better covered sheep varied from 550-630c/kg.
In Victoria at the Bendigo saleyards on Monday, the agents yarded 17,768 lambs, 4768 more than last week, and 5071 sheep, 2071 more, with the NLRS reporting fewer big export lambs, but some impressive heavy trade weights off supplementary feed.
Light weight lambs remained in limited supply, with most in the smaller range being Merinos. The NLRS said the sale lacked the competitive punch of a week ago, with export and domestic buyers not prepared to chase as hard to fill orders.
Prices backed away from the record pace of a week ago, with most crossbred lambs $15-$30 cheaper. Isolated sales were up to $45 lower, although the NLRS said it should be noted the previous market had enjoyed price surges of up to $50. There was a strong feedlot order for lambs with frame and size, while a couple of restocking orders kept prices robust for small lambs.
Demand for extra heavy lambs over 30kg was irregular and they made from $230 for small pen lots to a top of $284. The main run of heavy crossbred lambs, 26-30kg, sold from $243-$280 to average about $260. The 24-26kg lambs experienced some of the biggest price corrections, selling from $210-$246. Crossbred lambs in the 22-24kg range made $177-$241 depending on fat cover and breed quality. On a carcase basis, the bulk of the processor lambs were trending from 820-880c/kg, with just the best heavy trade weights over 900c/kg.
Demand for Merino lambs remained solid, helped by processors wanting lighter stock to fill Middle East kill export orders. The main run of Merino lambs in the 16-18kg range sold from $128-$151. Heavier Merinos topped at $203.
Bendigo’s sheep sale was erratic, resulting in some mixed price trends. Some of the limited number of heaviest ewes still in fresh condition were dearer, but most classes of mutton sold at easier carcase prices. The heaviest crossbred ewes sold from $230-$250, Merino wethers made to $240 and Merino ewes to $220. Once off the bigger sheep with fat cover, sales varied from $90-$150 for plainer mutton.
In Victoria at the Ballarat saleyards on Tuesday, the agents yarded 19,595 lambs, 697 fewer than last week, and 6861 sheep, 1465 less.
The NLRS said quality was mostly good, but fewer heavy lambs were penned. Competition was not as keen, with not all trade and export buyers operating fully. Lambs mainly eased from $10-$20. Heavier lambs were up to $30 easier for the limited number. Heavy Lambs sold to $284, with medium trade weights 22-24kg making from $191-$222 and averaging about 865c/kg.
Restockers and feeders were very active, paying from $136-$195 and from $80-$114 for plainer light types. Merino lambs sold to $220. Young 1.5 year old crossbred ewes sold to restockers at $214. Light weight 2 score lambs 12-18kg sold from $110-$146. Light trade 2 and 3 score lambs 18-22 kg made $160-$195, to average close to 840c/kg. Medium trade weight 3 and 4 score lambs sold for about 865c/kg. Heavy 3-4 score trade weight lambs 24-26kg sold from $238-$269. Extra heavy export lambs 30kg plus made $268-$284. Merino hoggets made to $135 and crossbred hoggets sold from $156-$180.
Ballarat’s sheep yarding included more lighter lines. The medium and heavy sheep sold to strong competition to be $10 up on last week in places. Heavy crossbred ewes reached $278. Light and very light sheep sold unchanged to a few dollars easier. Light weight 1 and 2 score sheep made from $70-$112 to average about 550c/kg, with very light 1 scores making $48-$78. Medium weight 2 and 3 score sheep sold from $88-$160, or 470c-660c/kg. Merino mutton averaged close to 620c/kg. Heavy Merino ewes sold from $170-$192 and heavy Merino wethers made $150-$180. Medium weights sold from $115-$177. Heavy Merino sheep sold from 600-665c/kg. Heavy 3-4 score crossbred sheep sold from $138-$278, to average 630c/kg. Rams made from $50-$198.
In New South Wales ate the Forbes saleyards, the agents yarded 22,250 lambs, 5000 fewer than last week, and 5650 sheep, 1650 less.
The NLRS said lamb quality was similar-that of previous sales, with good numbers of finished and grain-assisted lambs, although there was less weight in the lambs yarded. The usual buyers competed in the cheaper market.
Light lambs sold from $140-$169. Trade weights were $5-$10 easier at $155-$205. Heavy lambs of 26kg cwt eased $10-$15 to $200-$238. Extra heavy weights held firm to $3 easier at $253-$326. Carcase prices averaged from 863c-946c/kg.
Forbes’ sheep were mainly Merinos and quality continued to be very mixed. Prices remained strong, with Merino ewes making from $112-$232. Crossbred ewes made $116-$221 and Dorper ewes sold from $104-$187.
At the South Australian Livestock Exchange at Dublin on Tuesday, the agents yarded 14,000 lambs, 4000 more than last week, and 2000 sheep.
The NLRS said the usual buyers attended with another good field of restockers. Quality was only fair-good, with ideally finished crossbreds offered in limited numbers. More secondary Merino lambs and hoggets that made up a sizeable proportion of the yarding came forward and met solid competition from the trade and restockers.
Light lambs sold firm at $62-$78, light trade lambs eased $5-$10 to $120-$175 and medium trade types eased $10-$15 to $150-$256. Heavy trade weights traded firm at $180-$270. Extreme heavy weights eased up to $25, and the limited mostly score 4 conditioned offering made $280-$308. More hoggets of all weights were also offered, with lighter weights mostly firm and making from $89-$136, with heavy weights receiving from $142-$182.
Merino ewe lambs sold to restockers for $80-$149 and young ewes made $142-$182. Ewe mutton of all weights sold firm, with lighter weights making from $66-$82, as heavy weights sold from $140-$210. Ram lambs sold from $126-$151 and heavy weight rams made $148-$186.