LAMB prices generally plateaued in saleyards this week, but were mostly lower in northern markets on quality and numbers as the new season lamb turn-off continued to be impacted by lighter drafts.
Continued drought and poor pasture availability, and concern about future seasonal condition across much of New South Wales is escalating the early turn-off of lambs and ewes into saleyards, on AuctionsPlus, into feedlots or direct to abattoirs.
Also, not all buyers — supermarkets or exporters — are operating in every saleyard as slaughter shifts remain limited to match available lamb numbers and quality, and kill space booked by direct consignments. Major supermarkets Woolworths or Coles supermarkets did not operate in some key saleyards this week.
Mutton prices remained strong, with numbers holding or increasing, especially in areas turning off sheep off-shears and concerned about future restocking prices for older ewes prompting destocking with their light lambs.
September rainfall will be crucial
Rodwells livestock manager at Bendigo Nick Byrne said the slide in lamb prices appeared to have levelled off recently.
“At this stage, we aren’t in full swing with new season lambs and it will be interesting to see what full swing does look like.
“I would expect we will go from 4000 to 14,000 suckers in the next two weeks,” he said.
Mr Byrne said the new season lambs had needed some sunshine and now producers were getting nervous if there was no rain in the next fortnight, the area would “start going backwards.”
He said the season was now causing his clients to think more about forward contracts, with September a crucial month for rainfall.
“A month ago there were very few blokes that had good early lambs and no confidence to take contracts.
“We had plenty of feed and the lambs weren’t ready.”
His clients would prefer to sell their lambs at 24-26kg carcase weight, rather than 20kgs.
“Wi the season just being a little bit on edge at the moment people are thinking if it doesn’t rain in September then this market could come under a little bit of pressure and hence they are thinking the forward pricing could be attractive if that scenario occurs.”
Mr Byrne said Bendigo’s 8000 sheep were boosted by some early shearing, with breeders with 5.5 year-old ewes, that normally would go into a store sale, being valued at about $170 for mutton value.
“Is a breeder going to pay that for them? And the answer is probably not.
“It is not good for the industry, because we need those ewes producing lambs.”
He said the mutton prices was expected to come back from its current level.
“And when that does happen, the store blokes will pay $150 for a good classed breeder, but they are not going to pay $170.”
Dubbo stock agent Angus Barlow from Barlow and Eadon Schute Bell said any new season lambs lacked weight and were being turned off as feeders due to the season. Different sheep and cattle producers feeding stock were being forced to “raise the white flag” and destock, he said.
Squeeze on in the north
At Ballarat, TB White and Son livestock manager Xavier Bourke said the easing of prices on Tuesday was expected as more new season lambs were marketed and with the numbers coming onto AuctionsPlus in the north.
“The squeeze is starting to come on in the north now.
“On AuctionsPlus yesterday, there were plenty of lambs coming out of Hay, Balranald and Ivanhoe, Merinos and Merino crosses.
“And some of the good country around Deniliquin and Wagga, if they don’t get a rain in a week or 10 days, they are getting very cornered.”
Mr Bourke said the processors are not yet ready to lift their kill days until they are sure the numbers are available.
He said the growth in unweaned local lambs has been hit by recent colder weather.
Some lambs in the Maryborough/Avoca area are growing well for supermarket contracts for September delivery and new season lambs would start in the next 3-4 weeks, he said.
Forbes farmers selling entire lamb drops early
Forbes Livestock and Agency Co agent Randall Grayson said many of the new season lambs being marketed at the saleyard this week were lighter trade weights that sold $10-$15 cheaper and were going back to the paddock.
Some lambs are committed to direct contracts, but other drafts are being marketed early on AuctionsPlus due to the season.
“We are a district that buys store lambs, we don‘t sell them, but the reality is the third season in which we are going into a ‘wipe’ without hay or grain and our crops are dying or dead.
“So it is just a bit of a sell-off and the blokes have got to make a decision,” he said.
Producers were face with either taking the current lower prices for lambs or do they shear them and take them through, he said.
“At this point, most people are of the opinion that ‘the first money is the best money, we are sick of feeding’.”
He said entire drafts of store second cross new season lambs weighing up to 22kg cwt were offered at Forbes yesterday.
“We are fortunate that the south is very good and there is a bit of confidence down there and they are buying the better end of our lambs.
“The unfortunate part is that a lot of these lambs that we are selling now would normally be sold as a heavy new season lamb or a big percentage would be shorn and then sold in January-February of the New Year when the spring flush of lambs in Victoria is finished,” he said.
“That’s when we will have our shortfall.”
Due to poor flock conception rates, the area’s autumn lamb drop is much lower than usual, he said.
“So one, the season, and two, the poor joining, means there is just not going to be that carryover of shorn lambs to go through to the New Year.”
Mr Grayson said apart from Forbes and Wagga, not many of the NSW saleyards is yarding many new season lambs.
“Wagga is still having a reasonable season, but halfway between Wagga and Forbes is where it turns pear-shaped and the further north and west you go the worse it gets.”
Mr Grayson said the mutton market is still very strong, but some producers were opting to take current meat prices for 3-5 year-old Merino ewes, rather than shear and hold ewes for later sale in store markets. Agents 3-5 year-old Merino ewes with a 40-50mm fleece making up to $218 and bare shorn Merino wethers sell to $220.
“We are getting into genuine middle-aged class ewes that are just getting their heads cut off at the moment, because they are in good order they are not going to feed them.”
A producer who sold 600 four year-old Merino ewes for mutton value at Forbes said the sale was prompted by a good lambing rate giving him a lot of ewe lambs, Mr Grayson said.
“With the season looking pretty grim, he said we’ll cash them (the four year-olds) and he said he could feed the ewe lambs for half as much.
“It all comes down to feeding now; we are in August and we are gearing up to feed through spring, summer and autumn again for the third year.”
He said southern ewe restockers were not as keen to buy 3-5 year-old ewes as they were to buy younger ewes.
Bendigo trade weight lambs $5-$10 easier
In Victoria, at the Bendigo saleyards, the National Livestock Reporting Service said agents yarded 12,000 lambs, 954 more than last week, and 8000 sheep, 3502 more.
The NLRS said 4050 new season lambs came forward for all the regular buyers attended, though many were still not operating fully.
Sucker and old lamb prices reflected quality. The best young lambs sold at similar rates to a week ago, while the general run of trade weights were $5-$10 easier. Better presented shorn lambs matched last week’s prices, while plainer and long-wool types were discounted. The overall trend for old season lambs above 20kg was cheaper. Light weight lambs were often dearer due to limited supplies.
The heaviest new season lambs, 26-30kg, sold from $225-$231. The main run of heavy trade weights, 24-26kg, made $204-$224 to average $213. Most buyers worked on skin values of $4-$5 across these lambs.
Medium trade young lambs made mostly $156-$180. There were no major lines of young store lambs to suit restockers. On a carcase basis, a good run of young lambs was estimated to cost processors 770-820c/kg cwt.
The extra heavy old lambs were mostly in small pen lots and made $225-$235. The better finished trade weight old lambs sold from $180-$220. Secondary and mixed pens of old season lambs were erratic at $147-$190, with woolly pens discounted. The market showed a wide carcase price spread of just below 700-800c/kg for the best shorn trade weights, with most sales estimated between 720-780c/kg. Light weight lambs sold from $115-$145 and were dearer on a limited quote.
The NLRS said sheep quality was impressive, with a lot of heavy ewes and wethers in fat score 3 and 4. Despite the big lift in numbers, competition for mutton remained robust. Heavy Merino ewes over 24kg, and well above 30kg at times, sold from $139-$195 to average $164. Leaner and lighter trade weight ewes made $109-$143. Extra heavy Merino wethers sold to $212. Big crossbred ewes were cheaper and sold to $190 for the heaviest. Good mutton trended at 560-620c/kg.
Some new season trade and heavy lambs dearer at Dubbo
In New South Wales at the Dubbo saleyards on Monday, the NLRS said agents yarded 9800 lambs, 1340 fewer than last week, and 9100 sheep, 760 less.
The plain quality yarding had a large percentage of lightweight tail end lambs. Only odd pens of well-finished heavy weight lambs and trade weight lambs were yarded. Most of the regular buyers operated.
Lightweight lambs sold up to $6 cheaper to processors, with the 12-18kg 2 scores selling from $85-$155. Lighter trade weight lambs were firm and heavier trade weights were $5 cheaper on quality. The 18kg-24kg lambs made $135-$210, or 790-830c/kg. Limited numbers of trade weight new season lambs were dearer selling from $158-$220.
Heavy weight lambs were $2-$6 dearer with the over 24kg 4 scores selling from $200-$277. Merino lambs were firm, with the trade weights making $136-$182. A pen of heavy weights sold for $195.
Lambs sold firm to restockers, with very light and young White Dorpers making $51-$90. Merino lambs sold to restockers for $56-$100. Hoggets sold to $227.
The outstanding quality yarding of sheep had large numbers of top Merino ewes and wethers, along with some excellent crossbred ewes. Most grades were $5-$9 cheaper, with the exception of the heavy weight ewes and wethers which were firm. The 2 score ewes sold from $70-$115 and the better 3 and 4 score crossbred sold from $102-$214. Merinos made to $210. Outstanding heavy weight Merino wethers sold for $225.
Well-finished Tamworth lambs dearer
At the Tamworth saleyards on Monday, the NLRS said agents yarded 2450 lambs, 250 more than last week, and 1750 sheep, 550 more.
The quality of the lambs was mostly good with a few very heavy pens of old lambs and a good supply of well-finished new season lambs. The NLRS said there were the usual plainer quality and condition lambs, not having had access to much feed. The usual buyers attended.
Demand for well-finished lambs was strong, resulting in a firm to dearer market trend. Well-finished new season lambs experienced strong gains when taking weight variation into account.
Most of the light and medium weight lambs up to 22kg estimated dressed sold to a firm to slightly dearer trend, with quality and weight accounting for most of the price change. The heavier weights followed a similar trend. The extra heavy weight lambs experienced strong price gains with most of that improvement related-increases in estimated weights. There were some very good quality Merino lambs with good skins that also sold dearer.
There was high processor demand for well-finished sheep and competition was strong. There was not a lot of change in the market for the plainer condition sheep.
More drier lambs at Forbes
At the Forbes saleyards yesterday, the agents yarded 24,950 lambs, 5900 more than last week, and 11,100 sheep, 3350 more.
The NLRS said quality reduced slightly and there were more drier lambs along with the better finished types in the cheaper market. Agents penned 11,350 new season lambs for the usual buyers.
More store new season lambs were penned and sold to restockers for $105-$160. Trade weight new season lambs slipped $4-$6 and more in some places, to $160-$200. Heavy weights sold from $198-$236, or 830-850c/kg cwt.
Old light lambs eased $5 to $138-$160. Trade weights were $8-$10 cheaper at $152-$189. Heavy and extra heavy weights were also $10-$15 easier. Lambs around 26kg cwt sold from $173-$220, with extra heavy weights reaching $275. Carcase prices averaged 780-815c/kg.
The sheep were mostly Merinos and quality was good. Prices held steady with Merino ewes selling from $115-$218. Crossbred ewes made $115-$210 and Dorper ewes sold from $105-$192. Heavy Merino wethers made $150-$220.
Ballarat lambs $5-$10 cheaper
In Victoria at the Ballarat saleyards, the NLRS said agents yarded 6682 lambs, 524 fewer than last week and 6210 sheep, 3040 more.
The NLRS said lamb quality continued to be mixed with the end of last season lambs being yarded and pens of longer wool plainer types offered. Not all the usual buyers attended or operated fully in the market that was around $5-$10 cheaper, and more in places.
Heavy lambs over 26kg sold to $225. Light weight 2 score lambs, 12-18kg, sold from $120-$140 to average around 750c/kg. Light trade 2 and 3 score lambs, 18-22kg, sold from $147-$185 to average 770c/kg. Medium trade weight 3 and 4 score lambs, 22-24kg, sold from $176-$192 to average around 780c/kg.
Heavy 3 and 4 score trade weight lambs, 24-26kg, sold from $188-$204, to average around 785c/kg. Export lambs, 26-30kg, sold from $212-$225, to average around 790c/kg. Crossbred hoggets sold from $65-$162 and Merinos made $114-$155.
Sheep quality was also mixed, with some nice runs of Merino wethers offered in the firm market. Merino ewes sold to $160 and wethers to $168.
Light weight 1 and 2 score sheep made $75-$118, or 560c/kg, and the very light 1 scores made $60-$86. Medium weight 2 and 3 score sheep sold from $86-$153 to averaged around 560c/kg. Heavy Merino ewes made $157-$160 to average around 590c/kg. Heavy crossbred ewes sold to $180. Heavy Merino wethers sold from $154-$168 and medium weights made $115-$150. Heavy 3-5 score crossbred wethers sold from $141-$159. Rams made $40-$120.
Dublin new season lambs up $5-$10
At the South Australian Livestock Exchange at Dublin on Tuesday, the NLRS said agents yarded 8000 lambs, 1000 more than last week, and 2000 sheep.
The NLRS said the usual trade and processor buyers, specialty butchers and restockers attended. Competition was steady with restockers more active on the lighter end of the young lamb offering in a rising market.
Young lambs sold at $5-$10 dearer on a better conditioned offering, with light older lambs lifting by $5-$8. Trade weight older lambs sold $5-$15 dearer.
Extremely light young lambs sold from $74-$110 and light weights made $86-$156. Light trade weights made $120-$175 as medium weights $142-$182. Heavy trade weights sold from $198-$235.
Extremely light older lambs sold from $82-$136 and light weights made $120-$150. Light trade weights sold from $124-$176 and medium weights made $187-$216. Heavy old trade lambs sold from $222-$252. Light weight hoggets sold from $100-$160 and the heavier weights made $160-$180.
The good offering of mutton of all weights met strong competition to be $5-$15 dearer, including the rams. Lighter weight ewe mutton sold from $108-$170 and heavy weights made $150-$200. A small offering of mostly heavier weight wethers sold from $145-$186. Light rams made $128-$160 and heavier weights made $140-$192.
First Naracoorte new season lambs sold
At the Naracoorte saleyards yeste3rday, the NLRS said the agents yarded 1949 lambs, 93 more than last week, and 1587 sheep, 35 more.
The NLRS said the mixed quality lamb offering sold to fewer trade and processor buyers. Three pens of new season lambs came forward and up to 2000 head are expected next week.
The lamb market eased to 750-800c/kg cwt for most sales. The three pens of new season lambs sold from $164-$210. Light weight lambs made $70-$127, and the light weight trade 2 and 3 score selection sold from $115-$149. Trade weight 3 score lambs sold from $144-$181 and the heavy lambs made $177-$210. The few extra heavy lambs sold from $220-$233. Lighter hoggets made $88-$125 and the heavy weights sold from $143-$190.
The return of a regular buyer to the sheep market helped prices improve $3-$6. Light weight ewes sold from $86-$135 and the medium weights made $115-$158. The heavy lines sold from $148-$207. Wethers made $160-$202 and rams sold from $55-$192.
Muchea new season lambs firm
In Western Australia at the Muchea saleyards on Tuesday, the agents yarded 4950 lambs, 2950 more than last week, and 2000 sheep, 2495 fewer.
The NLRS said lamb quality was average. Highlights of the sale included best new season lambs selling to $154 and extra heavy old lambs making $190.
New season lambs sold firm at $106-$131, or 670c/kg cwt, for the 16-18kg lines, and $132-$154, or 720c/kg, for the 18-20kg lambs.
Old airfreight lambs made $80-$116, or close to 620c/kg, to be firm. Light trade lambs, 18-20kg, sold firm at $120-$135, or 675c/kg.
A poorer selection of medium trade weights, 20-22kg, sold at $130-$160, or 673c/kg, easing $5-$10, mainly due to quality. The 22-24kg lambs were generally the best sellers at $155-$176, or near 685c/kg. Extra heavy lambs sold to $190. The best heavy ram lambs sold the trade for $143-$160 and the top hoggets made $110-$140. In the store section of the lamb market, young Merino wether lambs sold to feeders gained $10 to $57-$105. Light young Merino ewe lambs sold $10 cheaper at $47-$97, all quality driven.
The best heavy ewe mutton sold to $144 and best heavy wethers made $155 in a market that was mostly firm overall. The ewe mutton market sales included light boners, 15-22kg, at $55-$94, medium trade weight ewes firm at mainly $120, and prime heavy weights at $120-$144, or near 470c/kg, to be slightly dearer due to quality. Best heavy wethers sold firm at $116-$155. The best younger prime rams made $75-$108 and the older lines sold from $46-$58.
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