Lamb Production

Seasonal conditions point to late new season lambs

Chris Howie, May 3, 2024

Chris Howie.

SEASONAL conditions in three states are pointing to a late run of new season lambs across much of southern Australia, according to RMA Network chief executive officer Chris Howie.

The seasonal conditions in agricultural South Australia, Western Australia and parts of Victoria are now considered “dry and dusty” with everyone feeding and many areas struggling for water if not on mains.

North of Port Augusta is in a good feed position in most areas with the benefit of the March rains. A small corner south of Mount Gambier and the bottom of Victoria have a start with feed growing.

Autumn lambing is well underway in these states and the current season points to a very late run of suckers with any weight once we head into July and August.

Speaking to Sandy Martin from Barratta and Witchety Stations in the Flinders Ranges, he said another rain would really put a top on an already good season with Buffel grass nearly waste high (even though now considered a weed in SA) and his merino lambing starting very well. Sandy noted “many in the inside agricultural country seemed to have held extra numbers for a bit longer than normal which is creating a bit of concern on what to do next”.

Andrew Peadon from Peadon Agenciesat Trangie said the Dubbo lamb job improved by $8 – $10 on heavies and $8 – $12 on trade lambs. The store lamb job was very good to exceptional in some places topping at $130 – $140. Mutton is still flat tracking with some heavies improving by a couple of dollars. Tractor fever is well underway although all areas are starting to look for the next rain with West of Dubbo quite dry.

Holman Tolmie, Cootamundra agent Corey Nicholson noted the numbers of quality lambs is fading quickly. Numbers offered at Yass are seeing the last cuts of heavy lambs trading at $6.60 – $6.80.

Trade lambs not quite finished are still very erratic with pricing; however, the trade lambs hooking to supermarkets are currently $7.00. Enquiry for store lambs 2 weeks ago was non existent but now is very strong with many orders appearing. Corey follows trend of most that the number and price point is about to cross over with signs of movement showing in the last few days.

South Australian agent for Quality Wool and Livestock, David Whittenbury said scanned in-lamb lamb ewes are an opportunity, but very hard to place at this time. For the eastern states it may well be worth looking to SA with quality ewes priced to sell between $80-$120. David also noted the limited enquiry for very well bred younger ewes has seen processors secure these lines over graziers at the most recent Jamestown store sale.

Westcoast Rural, WA lead sheep auctioneer Chris Hartley said it is a mixed bag on pricing. Anyone that has kill space access through contracts is still achieving fair pricing on lambs at around $5.80.

However, sale yard pricing is well undersold especially on mutton from .60 cents to $1.50 and light lambs. Light mutton or improver wethers are very difficult with minimal local paddock improver enquiry. The season is very tight with fodder availability becoming an issue. Eastern processors are operating on mutton, red tag hoggets and just starting to buy blue tag lambs with the odd grazier order appearing privately. Chris said rain will change the scenery quite quickly but the opportunities for Eastern store lamb buyers is now looking at the recent lift in store prices in Victorias and NSW.

Live export is still moving but the loss of one ship restricts numbers that can be moved and exporting 100,000 won’t really change the supply situation.

Feeding lambs – Dry autumns are an ideal time to activate the lamb feed lot with the ability to finish lambs on pasture all but gone. Weight gain and potential rise in prices work well together. For the uneducated – DO YOUR HOMEWORK FIRST. Once you have burnt lambs on feed with acidosis you will not get a recovery. Play it safe and make some enquiries on the buffered feed pellets available which have had excellent weight gain results with minimal losses.

Eyes wide open on what advice you take. Back in 1999 I saw some banks advise a lot of mixed farming enterprises to go 100% cropping in SA. 12 months later many of these farmers had to take an overdraft for the first time ever to meet the fertiliser, diesel and seed costs because the wool and lamb money no longer existed. In the past 2 months I have had a number of agents and farmers say this is the line being taken by some banks again – get out of livestock. My advise is don’t. Many inexperienced Agribankers really struggle to fit livestock into a credit paper because they have no idea what they are looking at – too many variables. Cropping is a simple cut and paste. Over many years it has been the livestock and wool enterprise that has kept the wheels turning. Keep your eggs in a couple of baskets.

I caught up with Shane Badman, HR and recruitment manager for Jumbuck Pastoral at the SA Sheep Expo. With over 130 young and future industry leaders attending it was a great opportunity to show the diversity of roles large pastoral companies like Jumbuck can offer to our next generation of livestock entrants. Shane said Rawlinna station on the edge of the Nullarbor had received 300mm in the recent big rain and the main homestead had about 2.5 metres of water around and through it. I remember the big rains in 1993 through the NE pastoral country of SA. It doesn’t happen often but when it does it is a major event that lasts for a couple of years.

Coaching coup at MLA. It was good to see the appointment of Michael Crowley as CEO of MLA.  Having been involved with Michael over the years I found he is someone who understands our industry and provides solutions to get things done. Good for all of us I think.

Beef2024

The Beef2024 event in Rockhampton is the target for many in the cattle industry next week. The array of speakers, information and technology is second to none as well as the educational opportunities for those looking for schools and training. More importantly the networking and business opportunities created are exceptional as long as you have a bit of a plan and not just looking at display stands.

I will be at Beef2024 with my RMA Network marketing and training team for the week and will be happy to catch up for a coffee or beer with anyone wanting to have a chat.

The live export trade in Australia has two distinct parts. Cattle – Speaking to Live exporter, Hamish Shannon in Darwin with Australia Cattle Enterprises. The Indo supply chain is back in full swing with rates around $3.20/kg looking fair for all concerned. It is good to see the flow of cattle heading North again allowing the inside cattle to move towards the processors and feedlots without competing for space with the surge of humps seen over the last couple of years.

Sheep – We are on the other end with the WA sheep export decision from the Federal Government still creating price, supply and viability issues for all involved. This excess supply has now pushed into SA and Victoria with WA sheep a continuous convoy across the Nullarbor for processing. In turn this has held the eastern prices – especially mutton lower than would be normally expected. Another knock-on effect is the lack of livestock trucks to move sheep from north of Adelaide because they are committed to the Nullabor shuttle run. It seems the push to retain this very important industry has dropped from the media. The loss of one sheep ship has not helped. The Government are very quiet because the overseas demand and exported numbers from WA are both increasing which is running against their position that we do not require ships but it is ok to put them on long haul trucks.

Cattle

Weaners – Mid April we saw another run of big weaner sales with one week offering over 40,000. I caught up in Naracoorte with Rob Handbury and Hayden Lambert, Agents from Thomas Degaris Clarkson. With Mortlake and Carcoar both having 6000 & 8000 at the same time buyer support was a concern. However feedlot competition was strong and set the scene on heavy steers at $3.50-$3.75. Mid range steers traded between $3.30 – $4.00. Heifers reflected all centres and ranged between $2.00 to $$2.75. The other sale centres quoted similar ranges with many vendors pleasantly surprised, especially on those that had quality breeding rewarded.

Cameron Wilson Elders Livestock, Queensland covers a lot of country and has roamed from the Gulf of Carpentaria to Dubbo over the past 6 weeks. He described the season across this vast patch as good to excellent with some areas still very wet. The cow turn off after weaning in QLD, NT and NSW is under way with the dry’s and aged being sold to provide room. With prices hovering around $2.20 for the better end cows and getting better as you head further south. Cameron said the available feed has the market tracking as would be expected and is providing the flexibility for producers to hold if prices drop too much. Feeder steer pricing is pretty static although quality feeders sold at auction are making a bit more than feedlot quoted rates at present, angus or flatbacks. Queensland has a couple of short weeks and the Beef 24 disruption that may see supply back up a little however increasing processor shifts seems to be absorbing numbers.

Isaac Hill, Wagga Regional Livestock said the cattle market has dropped into the 2 week cycle we quite often see at this time of year for sheep and cattle. The big price lift seen 3 weeks ago was followed by a large yarding that saw the market drop by more than the gain. This week it recovered across most types by 25 – 30 cents a kilo. Light heifers are still well under the job and providing opportunities for those interested.

Following the heifer discussion Ron Rutledge Nutrien Vic said quite a number of producers are treading water on the sale of heifers. With current market sitting at $2.50/kg the appearance of any rain could see these 180 – 250kg girls take a substantial lift.

Geoff Shipp, Elders cattle Agent, WA reported that there was a glimmer of hope for some rain this week after no meaningful rain since August. It has stayed that dry large tree die back is becoming a real concern over many areas and surface water for livestock is as bad has it has been for many years. Heavy steers 400 – 500 are $2.40 – $2.60, Bullocks around $2.40, 300 – 400kg steers $1.80 – $3.00. Heavy heifers $1.50 – $2.00 and lighter heifers much the same. Cows are $1.20 to $1.70 with well finished a little more. The feed lotters are underpinning the WA cattle scene with limited grazier enquiry.

Opportunities

Weight gain will pay dividends at this time of year

Lambs for the winter – Crank up the feedlot and finish your lambs.

I’m still sticking with mutton but WA supply is beating me.

SIL ewes – those with feed need to jump in.

Light heifers – no brainer. Buy better runs

Cow and calf units to split.

Use the next couple of months to think about next years targets.

Use networks to meet other people outside of your area.

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