Saleyard lamb prices dip, but for how long?

Terry Sim March 13, 2020

LAMB prices fell slightly in eastern states saleyards this week as processors faced with larger yardings in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia reacted to a long unprecedented run of rates above 850-900c/kg for trade and heavy lambs.

After saleyard sales yesterday, the Eastern States Daily Indicators for trade lambs fell six cents to 960c/kg yesterday and the heavy lamb indicator dropped five cents to 956c/kg, though both remain within two cents of levels of a week ago.

Agents this week reported increasing processor reluctance at the previous saleyard rates, taking an opportunity to limit purchases at some large New South Wales centres with higher yardings.

Some works have already limited kills and others are reportedly considering this. In recent weeks, processors have often being forced to pay up to 1000c/kg for saleyard lines and average these against any direct consignments or on-farm purchases at lower prices. But the strong export and domestic demand seems to be continuing as slaughter numbers continue to decline – six percent down week-on-week as at 10 March and 16pc below last year.

Previous corrections to the ascent of saleyard prices and bring rates closer to over-the-hooks grids late last year and in 2020 have been short-lived. However, it remains to be seen whether the recent drop in the heavy and trade lamb indicators will be sustained or turned around as more shorn lambs come off the stubbles of croppers and slaughter lamb supplies tighten into winter.

Reflecting the market confidence for future prices, the rise in the eastern states indicators for Merino, light and restocker lambs continued unabated this week. On Thursday, the indicator for light lambs attracting restocker and exporter demand rose 10c/kg to 959c/kg and the restocker lamb indicator lifted four cents to 1048c/kg. The ES Merino lamb indicator closed three cents higher on 884c/kg.

Grass and crop restockers/backgrounders and lot feeders continue to compete strongly with domestic works for 18-22kg trade weight lambs suitable for killing or feeding on.

Wagga stock agent, Tim Hulm of H. Francis and Co said the saleyard yarded about 10,000 more lambs yesterday and processors were reportedly hurting at current rates, but the market was still “a numbers game.”

“The lambs got pretty dear at $370 at Wagga last week and I think they got to about $330 at Wagga yesterday, which is still pretty good money.

“The heavier end of the trade lambs were $6-$8 cheaper than the week before.”

He said southern NSW has had a big sell-off over recent months and a lot of the lambs in the Wagga drawing area would soon cut their permanent teeth and would have to be sold.

“So I would think that the numbers will probably stay stable for a while.”

He attributed the dip in saleyard rates this week to processor resistance at the high prices, but he expected the lack of numbers to overcome this.

“Yes it’s a price correction, but I think it will stay stable for a while now.”

Charles Stewart auctioneer at Ballarat Jamie McConachy said he had heard reports of price resistance from processors, with claims from export works that they were “screwing” or losing up $50 a head on heavy lambs at current prices.

“When you hear that processors saying they are screwing up to $50 a head everyone gets the jitters a little bit and tries to drag it back a little bit, but the numbers aren’t allowing that to quite happen.

“The numbers (of lambs) around the place are pretty ordinary really, but in saying that, we are about to expect shorn lamb numbers to start come out of the stubbles in the next week – the shorn lamb season is about to go,” he said.

He said more shorn lambs are expected to come off stubbles in coming weeks across the Western Districts as croppers move to work up, spray and burn stubbles, but he expected any price correction to be slight and short-lived.

“It (the stubble lamb turn-off) has already started in places, but I think it will increase dramatically from this week coming.

“Combining the extra numbers and buyer resistance, we might just see a slight discount in prices, but it will only be short-term, because the numbers will beat them and we will be back to where we were quite quickly I would assume.”

Mr McConachy said the top-end of the restockers were paying from $180-$220, averaging $200, making these the dearest lambs in saleyards because of the competing domestic processor demand for 18-22kg cwt lambs.

“That top end of it is just incredible strong, but most of them are selling their lambs at $350, so can justify the expenditure at $200.”

He said other restockers are buying lambs at the 12-18kg cwt range assuming the winter prices are going to be strong.

“The next two to three weeks will be a very interesting period because numbers will be as high as we’ve had since the sucker season last year, and it will be just interesting to see how much it does come back, if at all.”

Bendigo lambs sell firm

In Victoria at the Bendigo saleyards on Monday, the agents yarded 33,370 lambs, 10,370 more than last week, and 10,750 sheep, 1750 more.

The National Livestock Reporting Service said lamb quality was good and the offering included a very good run of heavy and extra heavy grain-assisted lambs. Store lambs were not as well supplied and there were reasonable numbers of trade lambs.

The market sold-a mostly firm trend with the extra heavy lambs selling-a cheaper trend. Store lambs sold from $91-$169 with lambs going onto feed selling to $226. The 2 score processing lambs to 16kg cwt made $143-$168. Medium and heavy trade lambs up to 22kg were firm to $3 dearer, at $166-$222. Heavy lambs to 26kg were firm at $194-$250. Carcase prices were from 920-960c/kg. Extra heavy lambs to 30kg were back $3, at $250-$291, and those over 30kg were $16-$17 cheaper, at $288-$342. Trade Merino lambs sold from $182-$260 and heavy weights reached $280.

The best of the heavy hoggets sold to $240. Mutton prices eased $6-$10 across most grades. Medium weight ewes sold from $134-$188. Heavy crossbred ewes made 160-$220 and extra heavy ewes sold from $210-$290, at 670-700c/kg. Merino ewes reached $247 and wethers made to $289, averaging around 750c/kg for the wethers.

Dubbo trade lambs $6-$8 cheaper

In New South Wales at the Dubbo saleyards on Monday, the agents yarded 9550 lambs, 850 more than last week, and 2250 sheep, 8650 fewer.

The NLRS said despite last week’s excellent rains, lamb numbers lifted by 850. It was an excellent quality yarding with good numbers of well-finished heavy weight lambs along with odd pens of neat trade weights. There were limited numbers of lighter lambs suited to restockers. All the usual buyers operated.

Light weight lambs sold $6 cheaper to processors, with the 12-18kg 2 scores selling from $145-$164. Trade lambs were $6-$8 cheaper with the 18-23kg lambs making $176-$238, or 955-995c/kg. Heavy weight lambs were firm to $3 cheaper, with the over 24kg 4 score lambs selling from $240-$298. Merino lambs were $6-$8 cheaper, with the trade weights making $213-$245.

The limited number of crossbred lambs sold to restockers were $10 cheaper at $131-$150. Young Merino lambs sold to restockers made $109-$135.

Hoggets sold to $240. It was a mostly plain quality yarding of mutton where most grades were $5-$8 dearer. Merino ewes sold to processors for $134-$219 and crossbred ewes made $138-$236. Merino wethers sold to $234. Restockers were also active on Merino ewes, paying $50-$207.

Ballarat heavy lambs equal national record of $380

In Victoria at the Ballarat saleyards on Tuesday, the agents yarded 31,132 lambs, 5450 more than last week.

The NLRS said lamb quality was exceptional, with all weights on offer and the usual buyers operated in the firm to slightly cheaper market for heavier lambs.

Agents yarded several pens of beautifully presented heavy lambs that sold to $380. Grass restockers paid $92-$180 and lot feeders paid from $176-$241. Light weight 1 and 2 score lambs, 12-18kg, sold from $150-$186 to average 1000c/kg. Trade lambs, 18-22kg, made $194-$225 to average around 980c/kg.

Lambs from 22-24kg cwt sold from $215-$248, ranging from 935-1033c/kg to average around 960c/kg. The 4 score lambs, 24-26kg, sold from $233-$253 to average around 950c/kg. Heavy 26-30kg lambs made $246-$278 to average 920c/kg and over 30kg lambs sold from $273-$380 to average around 885c/kg.

All weights of mutton were offered in a very strong market-see a jump by $30 in places. Light weight 1 score sheep sold from $92-$148 to average 700c/kg. Medium weight sheep made $130-$209 to average 745c/kg. Heavy sheep, 24-30kg, sold from $188-$245 and over 30kg lines made $227-$282. Heavy Merino ewes averaged 750c/kg and heavy crossbred ewes averaged 730c/kg. Heavy Merino wethers sold from $186-$290 and medium weights made $145-$196 to average 760c/kg. Rams sold to $175.

Forbes heavy lambs $5-$6 cheaper

In NSW at the Forbes saleyards on Tuesday, the agents yarded 17,250 lambs, 50 fewer, and 2650 sheep, 650 less.

The NLRS said lamb quality was fair and the usual buyers competed in the cheaper market.

Trade and heavy weight lambs were well-supplied. Light lambs sold to restockers for $101-$200. Trade weights were $8 easier at $180-$234. Heavy and extra heavy weight lambs were $5-$6 easier. Heavy lambs to 26kg sold from $215-$269 and extra heavy weights made $252-$315. Carcase prices ranged from 939-990c/kg.

Mutton quality was very mixed, although there were some good runs of Merino wethers. Merino ewes sold from $132-$230. Crossbreds ewes made $162-$285. Merino wethers sold from $160-$260.

Dublin heavy lambs sell to $348

At the South Australian Livestock Exchange at Dublin on Tuesday, the agents yarded 9000 lambs, 2000 more than last week, and 2500 sheep, 500 more.

The NLRS said quality was fair to good and the usual trade and processor buyers, specialty butchers and restockers operated.

Competition was somewhat erratic, with early sales easing marginally, but later sales lifted in places up to $10 and drifting lower toward the close.

Extremely light young lambs sold from $78-$110 and light young lambs made $110-$138. Light trade weights sold from $128-$164 and the few heavy weights made $185-$190. Extremely light older lambs sold from $110-$152 and light weights made $145-$160.

Light trade weights sold from $140-$172 and medium weights made $184-$202. Heavy trade lambs sold from $225-$290 and extreme heavy weights made $320-$348.

Light hoggets sold to $102 and heavier weights made $214-$220. Ewe mutton of mostly heavier weights sold from $180-$234, up by $10. The wethers were mostly heavier weights that made $180-$234. A very mixed selection of rams sold from $130-$228.

Hamilton’s best trade lambs lift $3-$5

In Victoria at the Hamilton saleyards on Wednesday, the agents yarded 13,000 lambs, 137 more.

The NLRS said it was another excellent quality offering of trade lambs for the regular buyers, although not all operated fully or at all.

Restockers mainly from Swan Hill and local areas operated in the market that was firm to up to $3-5 or 10-15c/kg dearer for the very good trade lambs. The heavy weights and light weight lambs sold firm.

Shorn light 12-18kg lambs made from $104-$169, to average 1050c/kg. The shorn 18-22kg 3 and 4 score lambs made $175-$230 to average 930c/kg. The 22-24kg 3 and 4 score lambs made $194-$245 to average 930c/kg. The heavier 24-30kg lambs made $207-$283 to average 910c/kg and the few extra heavy lambs topped at $310. Hoggets made $147-$200.

Wagga lamb competition softens

At the Wagga saleyards yesterday, the agents yarded 30,000 lambs, 6500 more than last week, and 6000 sheep, 1950 more.

The NLRS said lamb quality was quite good in the trade and heavy lamb categories.

A large percentage of the lamb offering weighed above 24kg carcase weight. Generally, prices across trade and heavy classes softened, with buyers avoiding bidding duels.

Lighter weight young lambs were supported by restockers and feedlots, while processors struggled to match prices given. Trade lambs throughout experienced plenty of mixed price trends due to the lack of demand from some domestic buyers.

The best of the heavy trade lambs, 20-22kg, were $8 cheaper, to average 974c/kg. Light weight lambs sold back to the paddock made $139-$171. Young lambs with weight and frame were keenly sought by feedlots and made $189-$214.

The lack of competition from some export processors contributed to a cheaper trend of $7 for heavy lambs, which averaged $248. Extra heavy lambs also sold to weaker competition, with buyers quite selective at times through the sale. Prices were back $9, to average 914c/kg.

It was a mixed quality yarding of mutton. Competition from buyers strengthened for heavy ewes. Heavy crossbred ewes sold up to $290, to average 689c/kg . Heavy Merino ewes made from $258-$282, averaging 783c/kg. Heavy wethers sold at $253-$285, averaging 767c/kg. Trade and light sheep made $98-$198, averaging 688c/kg.


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  1. Tom Casey, March 13, 2020

    Bring on Ramadan.

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