Lambs, ewes, water and solving the labour shortage

Chris Howie, November 1, 2022

Chris Howie.

AUSTRALIA’S flood-affected sheep, cattle and wool industries get a going over in StockCo’s Chris Howie’s latest wrap, as he also offers tips on lamb trading, job interviews and work visas.

Sell those heavy lambs sooner than later

Lambs numbers continue to get pushed together because of the weather. Soon there will be some sun and a clear run at drafting lambs. This is when prices are going to struggle under a significant volume of trade lambs. The signs are heavy lamb numbers are short at this time and it is being reflected in improved pricing. I stick by my advice for the last two months. If you can get at your lambs sell the lead heavies sooner than later.

Store sheep and lambs. Ther are plenty of store lambs at present with prices tracking flat. Shorn store lambs are now drawing attention and seem to be rewarding those that have been able to shear. Light Merino ewes seem to be in demand over the last few days of October with processors and fatteners. This maybe an opportunity on heavy ewes to trade into next year at current values.

Spence Dix and Co director Rodney Dix at the Keith breeders sale reported best Merinos topping at $372 with the majority of the 1.5 year-olds making $290-$350 and the older ewes in excellent condition $170-$278. There was widespread support from SA and Victoria, with many repeat buyers.

Mutton price still flat

Mutton prices are still very flat with the lamb numbers available keeping the pressure on space. Paul  Kilby from Kilby Stock and Station on the Barossa and west coast said processors are handling heavy mutton at $4.20-$4.60/kg cwt, although freight evens it up pretty well. One processor has $5-$5.20/kg on light mutton under 24kg cwt, with a significant penalty over 24kg. Waiting times for delivery are about 3-4 weeks.

Barlow & Peadon Shute Bell agent Andrew Peadon at Dubbo said lamb numbers had been affected over the past two weeks with rain and yardings of only 14-15,000. However, with roads drying numbers are rising quickly with yardings expected over 20,000 in the near future.

Riverina Livestock Agencies director Tim Drum at Wagga said the last two weeks’ yardings have been large, although 50pc of the lambs are in the store category. Many are rain-affected, have not done well and are starting to run to wool. Merino lambs continue to be good buying at $85-$110. Crossbred store lambs are $120-$140, with heavier feeder lambs 42-45kg lwt making $140-$160. Heavy export lambs are in short supply with only 10-20pc of the finished lambs in this category. Heavy hoggets seem to be reaping the reward of this shortage with a significant lift last week. Plenty of trade weights are well supported, although the slippery, washed-out trades are being picked through. Older lambs are nearly done with only one lane being offered, he said.

McKean McGregor director Alex Collins said at Bendigo on Monday the lamb sale continued in much the same vein as Wagga’s report, with heavies well sought after and perhaps $4-$8 cheaper after a soft start. Trade sucker rates held OK, but slippery trade suckers going to wool fluctuated to be $20 easier.

First cross ewe sales

The Corowa NSW first cross sale achieved a top of $412 for 380 ewes to repeat buyers, showing demand is still strong. McKean McGregor’s Alex Collins said all agents will yard 30,0,00-31,000 1 st cross ewes at Bendigo this Friday, 4 November. Quality will be good, although some of the lambs may be a bit lighter than last year with the long Winter. For the first time, Bendigo will split this sale, with another run on the 2nd of December allowing rain-affected ewes to freshen up under a bit of sun.

PPH&S Naracoorte director Richard Harvie advised the dates and numbers for the Naracoorte sales. At the 1.5 year-old sale is on 10 November, Richard indicated numbers will be down on last year at around 14,000-15,000 ewes.

“With the rates being paid for ewe lambs last year many did not think there was sufficient margin to trade on,” he said.

The ewe lamb sale follows on 17 November with 30,000 head. Richard expected the tops will be very good, but considering the season the middle run of lambs may be a bit behind on weight this year.

Some quick comparisons against October 2020

 Wet with grass – same

 Lambs hooks $7.20-$7.60/kg, Sale yard price around $8/kg – same

 Quality Merino ewes hovering between $270-$350 – same

 Best heavy cows were $3.20-$4.40/kg – up a dollar

 Quality cows / heifers with calf at foot $3000-$4000 – same

 Dairy heifers were $1700-$1900. NZ banned live export, now $2650

 AWEX EMI wool indicator 2020 1106 cents/kg, in 2022 1323 cents/kg – better

 Indonesia live export steer $3.60/kg now $5.20/kg

 Diesel price 2020 national average 2020 $1.08. Today – (Swear word) ridiculous

Flies and pastures

Anyone treating for flies must make sure you look at the WHP and ESI timeframes. In the last big fly season, some lamb trades were impacted by an extended ESI which means you cannot sell the lambs for slaughter.

We have seen weight gains falling in some areas as happened in 2020 yet there is abundant pasture feed, how is this possible?

Elders Livestock production manager Rob Inglis explained that pasture sugars are now locked in the indigestible fibre. Lambs and young cattle cannot physically fit enough grass into their stomach. This limits the amount of energy that can be absorbed so limiting weight gain. Providing loose lick or supplementing grain will help convert this bulky indigestible feed and reactivate weight gain. It is worthwhile having a chat to your local advisors to best utilise feed and continue to create positive weight gains.

School leaver job interview tips

Having conducted hundreds of interviews, here are a couple of tips when applying for your new career:

 Do some homework on your potential employer – what does their business do?

 Understand what you will be required to do and the hours required. Not many new starters get a manager’s wage on day one – even if you have finished university.

 Dress for the interview as though you want the job – hair done, ironed shirt, polished boots, minimal makeup

 Tell the interviewer how you are going to help their business and what your goal is. If you don’t have a goal one, noone can help you get there.

A potential staff shortage and visa access solution

How will we get backpackers into the bush again? It will need to be driven by industry bodies because government is too slow and individual business is not accountable to deliver satisfactory working arrangements to make this function. My suggestions are:

  1. Require the candidate to lodge the cost of their airfare / travel into an Industry trust account.
  2. Industry/employer pay for the airfare with the understanding if the individual remains in their employment for a minimum of six months they will get the initial amount refunded plus $2500, or whatever is decided. This is paid to industry by the employer for disbursement in advance.

The backpacker still receives normal wage for work and has an incentive to become part of your team.

Supply chain training

The Wodonga TAFE Agency and Supply Chain training is back in full swing with 45 participants at various stages currently. The next workshop is planned for the 20th February 2023 with eight new starters already registered. This course now allows full Certificate 4 in Agriculture, AuctionsPlus training, the option of workshop only and is open to any wishing to upskill or start a career in the agricultural industry. Simone Dand is the contact on 0455 240 307.

The opportunities out there

 If they (anything) are ready to sell take the money now

 Old ewes/wethers on excess feed – bring back next year or join

 Straight lines of heifers – attractive cattle sell well

 Think about custom feeding a pen of your weaners in 2023

 Shear your lambs

 Set your kids up to succeed

 Stay positive – Australia is still a great place to live

Lambs and cattle

I am not an economist or an analyst, so make your own mind up on my following comments.

This year we saw COVID in January block the flow of lamb processing and numbers accelerated by the Foot and Mouth Disease fear in Autumn and Winter.

One question was: Where did they all come from? Looking back, it became evident many of the lambs had previously been purchased by processors as light air freight lambs and removed from the system. COVID saw the trade stop with no planes flying and that saw the lambs fed back into the grass system – extra numbers.

Jumping forward to cattle. We know many northern cattle went on grass in 2020 and 2021 that normally go to Indonesia or Vietnam. Most of these grassys would have been targeted for sale into the feed lot sector.

After several conversations at Beef Ex, it became apparent many feeder cattle in south-west Queensland and New South Wales have blown over feedlot entry weights of 520kg with the continued grass season and inability to muster because of water. These “overweights” have been turned back out to return as heavy cattle. This is similar what occurred in 2016.

My considered opinion is we will see a significant run of heavy grass cattle appear in the north from March 2023. Many originally destined for grain feeding will now start to soak up available grass-fed processing space in big numbers.

Demand for Australian beef remains strong but our pinch point (like lambs) is the ability to process the numbers. Now we have three moving parts: strong demand, very good supply and restricted processing ability. I suggest you start thinking about your sale program and booking processor space soon.

Beef Ex in Brisbane was an excellent event and congratulations to ALFA on how well run it was. A highlight for many was a presentation from past Australia treasurer Peter Costello on global economics. This was outstanding and laced with great insight and humour.

Beef store prices – We are starting to see the store steer prices run again on the back of available feed not the contract pricing available. Heifers during October were under the radar; however, Dubbo indicates they are starting to draw attention as an option now.

Feeders – Many lot feeders are looking at the cost dynamics and a few things became evident in all conversations at Beef Ex.

 Availability of staff

 Tightening of demand and price on cattle over 450kg

 Viability of short-term feeding for domestic supply being questioned at current pricing

 Increase in numbers of Wagyu in feedlots – long fed, less staff needed.

 Performance data on cattle – only feed those that perform (well weaned cattle are part of this)

Feeder numbers are really starting to increase and I expect to see feeder prices fall away quite rapidly leading into Christmas.

Cows and calves

Andrew Peadon at Barlow & Peadon Shute Bell, Dubbo, gave me a report on last Friday’s Dubbo female sale which was pushed back a week because of the big rain. About 3000 came to hand across all agents with a widespread gallery of buyers including local, Mudgee, Orange, Hunter, Gunnedah and Tamworth with an AuctionsPlus interface operating. Quality Angus cow and calf units with a bit of a story made $4100-$4200, with most British bred cattle in the mid $3000s. There ws aa good run of quality Bos Indicus cross cows and calves 7-9 years that made $3100-$3200. PTIC cows with style around $3000 and a small number of PTIC heifers between $2500-$2600. Unjoined heifers ranged from the $1700s up to $2200 for some well-bred Charolais cross girls.

Riverina Livestock Agencies director Tim Drum at Wagga commented that the cattle job has been outstanding, especially for cows and heavy steers. Numbers at the Wagga weekly sale have still been smaller than normal due to water and reduced numbers since the drought. Both of us agree we may see the feeder job start to move down over the next few weeks as access to paddocks opens up.

Michael Spencer and Nick Hall at Adcock Partners, Property and Livestock said the floods at Moree heading towards Walgett are moving very slowly and creating a significant issue for crop and livestock.

Nick said the New England is still wearing afternoon storms that are keeping the gullyies clean with some large falls. Michael said the Darwin live export rate is hovering around $5.10-$5.20/kg at this time with some large tender deliveries completed a little higher.

Weaner selling season is upon us with the first of the special sales about to start in South Australia and Western Australia. Over the past two months, we have seen last year’s steer calves being sold and margins have been tight, with the odd negative return. If you are a seller, prepare your calves to get the best returns this year – weaning management will make a difference to the price received. Especially if you are targeting the feedlots.

Dairy in a good position

National dairy manager for Elders Rob French said  floods have impacted many dairies, with fodder and tanker access becoming an issue. However, the industry overall is in an excellent position.

“Change over value for choppers and cows fresh in milk is only a couple of hundred dollars apart,’ Rob said. Good commercial cows in milk are ranging from $3200-$3400 and Jerseys to $4000. Classy stud cows averaged $5980 this month and export dairy heifers 200kg plus are bringing $2650 aimed at China.

StockCo changes

There have been big changes at StockCo, with new parent company Heartland in the process of securing a bank in Australia. This creates real opportunity for seasonal and breeder livestock funding for producers, stock agencies and service providers. It will dry out eventually and having your finance in place ready to capture the opportunity is simple with no application or line fees.



Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your comment will not appear until it has been moderated.
Contributions that contravene our Comments Policy will not be published.


Get Sheep Central's news headlines emailed to you -