Rain provides livestock value and opportunities

Chris Howie, December 5, 2023

RMA CEO Chris Howie.

RAIN has provided value for those who have bought store sheep and lambs, and opportunities at the remaining sale this year, writes RMA Network chief executive Chris Howie in his final 2023 industry wrap.

The early first cross and Merino ewe sales have come and gone. Without a detailed analysis, price ranges were from $130-$240 on classy first cross ewes, and $80-$220 for Merinos.

There were plenty of both types ranged in the $80-$150 range. For those that did get in those ewes would be looking excellent value now.

The store job is starting to move. It took a couple weeks longer than the cattle, but the store lamb prices at Yass Friday with 9000 moved up by $25 to average $70 for 1st and 2nd cross lambs. Corey Nicholson, Holman Tolmie agency, Cootamundra said the shorn lambs are drawing a lot more interest now, topping at $99.20 for some 39kg shorn second cross models.

The Yass combined agents are having a real go and will run with another store lamb sale on 15 December in conjunction with their store cattle sale.

Heavy lambs are in shorter supply than normal, and this will continue on till the New Year. Many think the rain in the south is beneficial; however, it destroys feed value and will make getting lambs up to weight difficult without supplementary feeding. However, the rain north of Forbes to Queensland is gold-plated and will provide trading opportunities across many areas – especially if they have lucerne or millet.

Adam Chudleigh, MCC Chudleigh Dobell, Forbes and Randall Grayson, Forbes Livestock and Agency Co told me the feature first cross ewe sale with 15,000 quality ewes will be held on 11 January. Normally viewed as the last of the quality ewe sales for the season, it is an ideal opportunity to buy young ewes following the rains.

Training sessions

With the New Year rolling towards us at a rate of knots it is time to think about training your young and new staff in all parts of the agricultural industry. The first agency and service provider program at Wodonga TAFE, now in its 14th year, will start on 3 March under the management of Simone Dand and is open to all agencies and service providers.

Agencies, feedlots, farm supplies, financiers – the list goes on, all gain real benefits from this training. This second workshop course accelerates the operational learning curve of those that attend as well as giving AuctionsPlus accreditation and industry level networking. Contact Simone on 0455 240 307 if interested in more detail.


 Soak in the change of attitude that has bloomed.

 Look at the numbers, work out a plan and buy well.

 Store lambs are still worth the money for sale in April – July

 Buy quality – Put lipsstick on a pig but it’s still a pig

 Market your livestock, don’t just sell them.

 Sign contracts in 2024 and sleep better.

 When the job is tough training is more important than ever

 Life is too short so have a great time with your family and be safe over Xmas.

Rain on the stubble

There is still time to get into the store sheep job at the right money. Everyone is banging on about sustainability and emissions. Stubbles after a rain are ideal for sheep. Save diesel, save spray and let sheep do the work for you, as well as making a quid. Teach the kids over the holidays how to make a schilling through managing the process with you. Help the environment and turn summer weeds into income not expense.

Quality, quality, quality

In the current market continue to buy quality. As we have learnt over the last four years, paying top dollar for secondary stock only lasts while the market keeps rising. We need to buy the stock that turn grass and grain into weight in the shortest time. Paying $10 dollars more for a better lamb or $50 more for a steer with bone definitely pays off at these prices.

The Eastern Young Cattle Indicator is the number one confidence indicator in the bush by a 1000 miles. Who needs surveys and consultants? The EYCI is responsive in real time and as the rain falls the “smile dial” really starts to take off. I am still not a fan of it as a marketing tool, but it does have its uses.

Emotional flow chart

Now it is time to use this for positive reinforcement of your sale process.

 If you are happy with the sale price today do not look backwards tomorrow – move on.

 Take pieces of the lift and concentrate on weight gains.

 We can all guess at price but we cannot control it.

Time to reflect

Well this my last wrap for the year. I hope some of you took the chance last month to load up. All of us are only as good as our last innings, but the rain has made the advice very worthwhile.

El Nino, what a way to end. I had my fair share of not right, but I definitely didn’t get it as wrong as the doomsday weather crowd who single handily destroyed the livestock market for six months.

Live export

After years of improvement within the animal welfare outcomes by fantastic Australia businesses the Federal Government has announced the new role of Inspector General of Animal Welfare and Live Exports. With this move, I expect there is no need to ban the legitimate live sheep trade as it now has federally approved oversight.

‘Phantom’ herd and flock estimations

The Phantom herd/flock has reappeared. I first saw ‘the phantom’ in 2002 in northern New South Wales. The drought saw every agent booking the same 200 cattle with four end users and the producers using three agents to make sure they could find some feedlot or kill space. So when it rained those 200 were held or sold, yet the phantom number of 1000 evaporated overnight. The phantom re-appeared in the south-east South Australia in 2006, with lambs and ewes struggling with a very bad year. Again, when it rained and the overstated numbers evaporated. And now we have the next model phantom that has very quickly extinguished the spot market numbers and space bookings and price has become volatile. How the wheel turns in our industry – ‘the ghost who walks’.


Following on from ‘the phantom’ we have now seen both sides of the importance of a sales contract when prices move. In November 2022, the price fell so quickly those that had an ‘over the phone discussion’ about price and numbers with a buyer were left hanging as the price fell faster than delivery dates. Now, 12 months later, we are seeing supply shortened by rain and numbers that were booked for delivery are disappearing. Both of these issues are resolved with the signing of a contract.

I have not heard of any feedlot or processor 12 months ago who did not honour a signed contract. As an agent or a farmer a signed contract also obliges you to deliver at the agreed price on the opposite swing. Pretty simple solution really.

New ideas

There are so many research and development gigs at present reinventing what was never used the last time it was invented, that the agricultural industry seems to be reverting more and more to the old ways.

Adoption is absolutely important, but the volume of information and data has become so daunting the ability to sort it is near impossible. Relationships, trust and industry champions become more important now than ever. When people are unsure they always go back to what they know; the old way that dad did it.

Find the right person to help you – agent, Livestock production advisor, local consultant – those that are linked to your community so they try a bit harder to help you as their local reputation is on the line.

Unrecognised champions

Livestock carriers, from body trucks to RTA road trains in the north, keep our industry moving.

As an agent, commission buyer, feedlot, processor or farmer these are the crew that allow us all to do our job.

Good people that know the farm tracks, have patience in abundance when loading woolly lambs, doggy old cows or ewes, and navigating from the bush through the cities.

Give them all a thought this year because when you open the peepers on Christmas or New Year’s day (or any long weekend) many of them will need to be 0.0 to deliver livestock to a processor/feedlot/live exporter or the early January weaner sales. A carton of beer or bottle of something on the front seat goes a long way.

This bit is for the regulators

As an agent and my current role I know a lot of carriers and cover a lot of different areas, so this is not just a mate’s conversation. All over Australia I am hearing the same stories of immigrant long-haul freight drivers without any skill, driving in a manner so dangerous it is now open for conversation.

One chat this week was a B-double passing another semi and a loaded school bus on a blind corner – his number has been reported and the kids who overheard the spray given to him may have gained five years in language education on the two-way radio. The bus driver also gave a thank you to old mate for his support.

I personally did not pass a rig out of Meninge, because of how he was fishtailing and was waiting for him to tip it over. When we got a clear run my passenger said he was on the phone. Without proof, many are suggesting the drivers are working for call centres at the same time. The last bit of this is the practice of paying drivers by wire transfer back to the country of origin to avoid paying tax to the Australian Tax Office.


Scott Hamilton at HMA, Narrabri, said the change of buyer sentiment moved very quickly on the preliminary rains and now the big rain has happened it is well entrenched with demand for livestock on the way up.

Duncan McLeod MAA, Roma, expressed the same sentiment and his timing for one of his main store runs of quality cattle this Tuesday could not be better. Annual sellers create interest at all sales and the run being offered by Duncan for CA Flower & Co of 500 EU Santa x Hereford/Angus steers in the Roma’s run of 8330 should activate some good orders.

Weaner sales

The big weaner sales are rolling towards us with the Naracoorte and Mount Gambier fixtures this Thursday and Friday in the south and the WA sales at Boyanup. After that, every day in January has  cattle for sale in the paddock, in the yards and online – including a Saturday sale at Barnawartha with James Brown, Ray White, Albury.

The hook prices have moved, with several agents given a lift in contracted rate pre-delivery to secure the numbers. I am quietly optimistic, but I think we should wait to see if this was driven by rain stopping numbers being held back. All centres saw renewed activity by main buyers with one agent saying Inverell had five all on the same cattle. It’s a good day for an auctioneer when this happens.

Renewed activity has appeared now around running physical sales, sheep and cattle. Corey Nicholson, Holman Tolmie agency, Cootamundra said the lift in the store job will see the Yass agents run a store cattle sale on Friday the 15 th in conjunction with their third store lamb sale. Outside of buying and selling livestock, we both discussed the benefits of these sale for many as an opportunity to catchp, networking between agents and buyers, chatting with old friends and recharging our mental health in a positive environment. The social fabric of a livestock or clearing sale is a key part of our industry and is the only way the finer nuances of preparation, values and negotiation can be learned, I think.

Peter Daniel GDL, Queensland said he hasn’t seen a time that the mental health of the livestock community was so stretched as the past 12 months and this rain has done far more good than can ever be measured. One of his Hungerford clients from Momondaary Station on the NSW/Queensland border offered 700 Shorthorn steers. They topped at 414 cents, with the absolute tail making 220 cents. Four weeks ago the tops would have struggled at 220 cents.

AuctionsPlus snippet

A great price sighter for us all. Brett Shay, Elders Albury sold the following run of Three Rivers Angus steer and heifer weaners on AuctionsPlus on Friday. Steers 69 @ 327kg made 370 cents, 73 @ 281kg made 409 cents and 96 heifers @ 267kg made 333 cents. These calves were cross-weaned at assessment. I had to ask what this is. It is when weaners are put with the opposite mob of weaned cows. It settles them down in the paddock and reduces pink eye. Well, there ya go!

Safety in the livestock industry

At this time of the year with long days, heat, rain, constant fat and store sales, uneducated weaners and lambs, fatigue becomes a real issue. For many young staff this may be their first taste of big weeks. Driving, drafting and time pressure all combine to elevate our risk profile. Mixing this with Christmas and New Year festivities adds another dimension.

It is important the experienced staff take a leadership role that will sometimes require a younger person to be given advice of when to take a break, book a room and have a rest. Going home in the same shape you arrived in is always a good day.


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