Lamb and mutton prices continued on a downward trend at the few eastern states saleyards selling on Friday last week, with seasonal conditions continuing to impact on producer turnoff and restocker confidence.
Only the best light slaughter, medium and heavy trade lambs held firm on Friday. Buyers were also quoting cheaper skins prices of $2-$6 at Shepparton.
Dry conditions hit home
Landmark’s national livestock director Mark Barton said season conditions were affecting restocking decisions and forcing the turn-off of stock across the eastern states, especially NSW and Queensland.
“I drove from the top Victoria to basically the bottom of Queensland last week, and the dry conditions and quality water is really catching up with us in the last fortnight.
“That singlehandedly is seeing a flush of numbers for one and also people are just thinking ‘what can I afford to keep?” he said.
“Even to lock lambs up and feed them, with the limited grain harvest we had last season, there is no cheap quality grain out there either.
“Grain prices have probably shifted somewhere $40-$60 a tonne, no less than $40 a tonne, since the headers went through,” Mr Barton said.
“That in itself questions the logic of putting lambs on a feedlot system at this time of the year.”
He agreed grain feeding costs might also bring forward the date at which lambs could be profitably marketed.
Lamb supplies almost guaranteed to tighten
The state of the lamb market was largely due to the unfavourable start to the autumn, Mr Barton said.
“Everyone I know every day is checking what state is the weather at – what’s going to happen next.”
Processors recently have been able to buy plenty of lambs at 460-470c/kg cwt, he said.
“No-ones locking too many up when there is a dollar a kilogram difference between the forward market and the current spot market.”
But Mr Barton said there was “almost a guarantee” of a tightening of lamb supplies leading into winter.
“There is definitely going to be a shortage of supply, because the numbers are going to be reduced.
“People haven’t put the numbers away that they normally value-add.”
He said demand for lambs is still very high.
“I think there is going to be a tough period for processors, come May, June, July and August – I think there is going to be a real shortage.”
The current forced seasonal turn-off further reduces the potential for heavy lambs on the market for the second half of the autumn into winter, Mr Barton said.
NLRS indicators suffer big weekly falls
The National Livestock Reporting Service Eastern State Daily Indicator (ESDI) results showed that light lamb rates fell the most last week – three cents on Friday and 40 cents for the week to close on 489c/kg.
The indicators for restocker and Merino lambs also dropped significantly during the week, bringing the restocker price more in line with trade lamb rates. Both indicators drop 35 cents for the week, with the restocker indice closing down four cents to 518c/kg and Merino lambs down two cents to 489.
The ESDI for trade lambs had a daily fall of two cents to 513c/kg, down 18 cents for the week, and the heavy lamb indice also dropped two cents, to 513c/kg, down 16 cents weekly.
The national trade lamb indicator was down two cents to 516c/kg and the heavy lamb indice was back one cent to 513.
The ESDI and national indicators for mutton fell two cents to 347c/kg.
Breeding ewes still in demand on AuctionsPlus
AuctionsPlus market operations officer Anna Adams said sheep and lamb numbers tightened this week to 53,410 head, down 12,000 on last week.
Ms Adams said while prices and clearances followed wider marketplace trends this week, quality breeding ewes were still attracting reasonable prices, especially crossbred ewes.
First cross ewe lambs sold from $90-$135, and scanned four to six-year-olds made $150. Merino ewes in lamb to terminal sires met similar demand, with young scanned ewes selling from $120 to a top of $151 for three-year-old Charinga blood ewes in lamb to Poll Dorsets.
Merino ewes joined back to Merinos made $130-$149 and maiden Merino ewes sold from $90-$120. Ewe lambs approaching joinable age made $106-$114.
Merino wether lamb prices softened to average $54 this week, ranging from $40.50 to a top of $76.50 for 35kg liveweight Nyowee and Bunyara blood lambs out of SA. Hoggets out of Victoria weighing 50kg and just a month off shears sold for $83.
Cowra trade lambs ease $5
In NSW at the Cowra saleyards on Friday, the agents yarded 5900 lambs, 1520 fewer than last week, and 1300 sheep, 485 more.
The NLRS said there were good numbers of heavier trade and heavy lambs, a few pens of extra heavy lambs. Most of the medium weight trade and lighter lambs were dry and lacked finished. There were more light lambs. All the usual buyers operated in a mainly firm heavy trade and export market.
Prices for light lambs eased. Light processing lambs slipped $10, with little restocking activity, to range from $60-$90.50. Medium trade lambs eased $5 on average, but the few finished lambs held firm. Heavy trade lambs were unchanged. The medium and heavy trade lambs sold from $90-$126 to average 495-515c/kg cwt.
Heavy lambs sold firm with 26kg cwt lambs and heavier making $124-$147 and extra heavy weights reached $175. These averaged 480-520c/kg cwt.
Sheep quality was mixed, but there were some well-covered lines. Prices eased $4-$8. Medium weight ewes ranged from $68-$80 and heavy weights reached $112. Most averaged between 320-340c/kg cwt.
Griffith sheep down $10
At the Griffith saleyards on Friday, the agents yarded 8693 lambs, 293 more than last week, and 2520 sheep, 570 more.
The NLRS said it was a mainly very good quality penning of lambs. Demand from processing buyers was steady but lambs generally sold $5 easier. The light weight 2 score lambs made $45-$70, while light trade weight 2 and 3 scores sold from $70-$90. Trade weight 3 score lambs sold from $90-$118 and averaged 500c/kg cwt. The heavy 3 and 4 score lambs sold from $115-$143 and the extra heavy 4 to 5 score export lambs made $136-$173 or an average of 505c/kg.
The mixed quality yarding of sheep sold mostly around $10 cheaper. Competition was best for the medium to heavy weight better covered sheep and these averaged 325c/kg cwt. The light weight 1 and 2 score sheep made $25-$40 and the medium weight 2 and 3 scores sold from $50-$85. The heavy 3 to 5 score sheep sold from $72-$110. Heavy weight rams made from $20-$55.
Better trade lambs firm at Shepparton
In Victoria, at Shepparton on Friday, the agents yarded 1942 lambs, 412 more than last week, and 616 sheep, 264 more.
The NLRS said lamb quality across the yarding remained very mixed. Not all the usual export buyers were present, but there were a couple of extra orders for trade and light lambs.
Prices fluctuated, but the market generally showed a cheaper trend for heavier lambs, while the better style trade and lightweight slaughter lambs were similar to the previous week. The skin market has also weakened and most buyers were working on reduced returns of $2-$6 for skins this week.
Export competition was subdued and the heavier weight lambs, over 24kg, sold from $128 to a market top of $147 for lambs estimated to weigh about 28kg cwt. The heavier lambs were estimated at 470-500c/kg cwt.
Most of the better pens of trade lambs, 20-22kg cwt, sold from $100-$116 and the light slaughter lambs made $83-$96. In carcase weight terms, the better presented trade and light lambs made up to 540c/kg, but most sales ranged from 460-520c/kg depending on quality. Some pens of very small and plain lambs sold from $20-$55, with local restockers helping support sales.
The sheep sale was limited by quality and numbers. A few pens of heavy crossbred ewes sold from $85-$105 and middle run ewes made $50-$78. Some very light and plain sheep sold down to $20.
Source: AuctionsPlus, MLA, NLRS.