Prime & Store Sheep Reports

Short-term sheep and lamb trades are out there

Chris Howie, April 12, 2024

Chris Howie.

BETTER planning around short-term lamb/sheep trades has definitely been the winner since late November, according to RMA Network chief executive officer Chris Howie in his latest industry wrap.

I have noticed lamb contracts when released are rapidly filled but interesting how a number of grids match off quickly despite some media negativity and number forecasts around supply and demand. Lamb remains profitable for breeders and fatteners at present levels. However, sheep and lamb numbers grow rapidly when compared to beef and oversupply can happen in one spring if not balanced.

As we have seen with rain, sheep and lamb quickly loses appeal with farmers regularly ploughing themselves into a drought prior to the seasonal break. Again there is a great short-term trade opportunity from now until early August with South Australia still very dry and numbers in Western Australia down significantly.

I still stick with the mutton trade on Merino ewes and can see this demand opening up as lamb numbers and quality fall away. Carcass and wool clip = return.

Now we are in the crossover season with rain through belts of the Riverina and Victoria seeing tractors become the focus. TB White and Sons’ Xavier Bourke at Ballarat said there was a draw for about 40,000 lambs this week’s sale as farmers unload paddocks.  Buyer activity on all types held firm to improve as the day went.

At Hamilton, Bernie Grant from LMB Livestock and Land said the annual run of lambs has about another three weeks to run and stores are gaining momentum, especially for the better quality second cross articles.

Into South Australia, TDC Penola director Rob Handbury said most of the stubble and irrigation lambs are nearly out with two weeks being the number run off. Many graziers are lightening lamb numbers after a hard spring to make room for the ewes. Rob also went onto mention the difficult spring has seen many past traders concentrate on the bank balance and fodder this year.

According to MLA market information analyst Emily Tan’s overview, all sheep market indicators are showing positive momentum as lamb yardings eased by 489,081 to 919,632 head – a reduction of 35 percent during March. This is indicating the fundamentals of the market have not changed as market dynamics continue to dictate price.

The heavy lamb indicator rose by 32 cents to 663c/kg cwt. Prices lifted in all states. With well-finished shorn lambs continuing to demand a premium. The export market has demonstrated robust bidding for heavier animals.

The light lamb indicator lifted by 46 cents to 595c/kg cwt with significant price jumps as confidence has improved. Victorian prices lifted by 52 cents and NSW prices by 37 cents. A similar trend has been observed with the restocker lamb indicator as prices rose by 82 cents to 604c/kg cwt as rainfall in New South Wales and Victoria instilled confidence in the market.

The mutton indicator grew by 60 cents to 284c/kg cwt, with yardings easing by 53,768 to 38,266 head – a 58pc reduction in yardings. The anticipation of wet weather and buyers actively participating lifted prices, driven by the presence of heavy sheep presented at saleyards.

The trade lamb indicator lifted 36 cents to 648c/kg cwt, with the largest contribution from NSW and Victoria. Yardings eased by 15pc to 44,437 head. Trade lamb moved in a similar trends to heavy lambs, with firm competition and interest in trade lambs.

Lambing ewes. Some livestock production advice from Elders national livestock production manager Rob Inglis. Don’t forget about the girls at the most important time of the year. Get some advice from a good livestock production advisor and supplementary feed with some lick to give them the energy to get both lambs on the ground alive. We love blaming weather, foxes and eagles, but the truth is what you do to support your pregnant ewes is the biggest impact on how many lambs are running around at marking time. Even if your farmers bureau or agency doesn’t have an LPA contact, find a good one and introduce them into your business.

The slaughter numbers for March indicate demand for Australian product is very robust and now we have straightened out the supply bubble some real positivity should be garnered from these numbers across all participants. We can’t fix seasons, but the management of emotionally-based sale programs can definitely provide upside for all concerned.

Sheep and lamb slaughter up in March

Combined sheep and lamb slaughter in March increased by 646,311 to 3,278,393 head. The combined sheep and lamb slaughter surged to 687,772 head, marking the largest weekly total on record (22 March 2024). After record slaughter, the following week slaughter eased by 87,001 to 600,771 head, largely due to a decline in lamb slaughter. In the same week lamb slaughter reached 506,443, surpassing the half-million mark for the first time. Year-to-date, slaughter is tracking 1.4 million, representing a 22pc increase over 2023 slaughter numbers, with lamb slaughter up 25pc and sheep slaughter up 14pc.

Some cattle thoughts

Andrew Hosken, Hosken Livestock and Consultancy, Tamworth, has always been a great sounding board for me and flicked through some thoughts that range a bit wider than the localised content.

Andrew’s thoughts: Rain and numbers has seen a firming in northern cattle markets post-Easter. Grid prices lifted 10-20 with available slaughter space opening up for bookings. We have also seen prices firming and previously limited space opening for July and August for grain-fed beef that bodes well. Increased interest for EU and grass-fed beef from domestic and export buyers is also appearing.

It is really important point for producers is to become fully aware of the now well-established demand for guaranteed grass-fed beef. This is a growing market that will affect your marketing of both prime and store stock.

For the agency community initiating these protocols with your producers for buyers will enable you to be recognised as an innovative marketer as feedlot and processor demand increases with more works adopting the grass-fed guarantee.


Queensland’s season varies in most areas and last week’s rain really adds some grunt to the feed position.

There will be larger volumes of very good heavy cattle from central Queensland and the channels that have had a beneficial wet season.

Prior to the rain, store cows targeted for September and October kills will be great property and don’t under estimate their value for later. Picking along there is still opportunity in the south for plain cows to improve. Perhaps with a calf at foot…

Light cattle and joined females of all categories look great value heading toward improving markets and likely static volume in the second half and into next year.

There is an underlying confidence for the market in late winter and spring, and going forward this has potential to strengthen, but not in a “run away” manner as we saw last time.

2025 appears very promising as climate events around the world will continue to strongly influence the ability of cattle herds to rebuild. A lag of 2-3 years before most breeding herds can commence rebuild and have impact on international supply.

Australia had our big dry followed by a lift but this was driven by international demand as our domestic population cannot consume what we produce. We are still to see impacts from United States and Brazil — which has filled its US quota — in particular to start to rebuild. All these are very positive for Australia.

Weight wins

At this time of year, weight wins and our markets will start improving. Recent northern rains will see the flexibility provided by grazing crops come to the fore.

Without factoring in the season, there is more good in the 1-3 year beef outlook than bad. Taking advantage of the present lack of interest around trading seems a great opportunity. The availability of simply accessible finance, improving season and a positive outlook. Rare to see longer term trades with such an opportunity. Lighter, weight gain stock and splitters are particularly promising with their ability to create a trade with potential additional upside.

Aspects out of our control that can create big impacts and greatly influence and change continue to include the Chinese economy, US election, Ukraine, Russia and Middle East politics.

I will add to Andrew’s comments that we normally see supply in the south ease from now on.

As a rough guide, pricing between the north and south tends to have about a six-week lag. As supply tightens in the south, NSW will start to see increased buying activity that eventually infiltrates into Queensland less the freight difference.

Emily Tan also provided some great insight in a snapshot of the past month, while being mindful it has not captured the recent prices changes driven by supply and rain.

The cattle market is trending positive despite the feeder steer indicator easing slightly. This month’s yarding’s lifted by 29,221 to 317,557 head. March weekly yarding’s averaged 73,885 head each week.

The feeder steer indicator eased by 10 cents to 319c/kg liveweight (lwt). Over the month, demand for feeder steer has remained steady, although over the past week the absence of lot feeders at saleyards eased the FS indicator by 7 cents to 314c/kg lwt this week. Heavier cattle continue to hold the premium over lighter animals.

The heavy steer indicator lifted 21 cents to 304c/kg lwt, coupled with yarding halving over the past month.

The short supply of heavier animals combined with rainfall across the eastern seaboard has pushed prices up.

The processor cow indicator declined by less than 1 cent to 232 c/kg lwt. Victorian prices lifted by 16 cents despite a four-cent drop in NSW and 10-cent drop in Queensland. Processor interest continues to remain steady with it, improving nine cents over the past week.

Restocker yearling heifers rose by two cents to 265c/kg lwt, with increased confidence from Queensland producers. Improved rainfall has driven producer confidence encouraging continued investment into the breeding herd.

The restocker yearling steer indicator eased by 14 cents to 341c/kg lwt, with yardings at 3816 head. Less supply at saleyards has increased competition, but demand has eased as lot feeders did not participate at the end of March in some centres.

Weaner sale reports for central and northern NSW saw a spread of results with centres closer to Queensland ringing the bell on top end prices. Shad Bailey, Colin Say and Co Glen Innes had a quality run of 2500 cattle that was sold in 55 minutes. Not a bad effort. Heavy calves 330kg+ sat in the high $300s and Shad said lighter grades got progressively dearer, with 250kg steers making 440-450c/kg. Will Dixon, Monaro Livestock and Property, Cooma had very similar comments following his sale. Dubbo agencies leading the charge at Cooma for heavier Hereford steers $3.30 – $3.40. Angus from 250 – 320kg consistently making $4 -to mid $4’s. Baldies about 20-30 cents less and Herefords 50-60 cents off.

Overall the sales weight was definitely the winner, with most 350kg plus Angus steers with style being eagerly sought for grazing crops and feedlot, with the ability to get to sale weight with only one winter.

What’s happening in the south?

Its April … has the tide started to turn in the south? This week we have seen cow and bullock values take a jump. Cows have lifted to $2.30 – $2.88 and bullocks with quality chased $3.50. A northern feedlot order dropped into Barnawartha and paid $3.01 for 440kg heifers last week that on this week’s sale looks good buying. At weaner and fat sales the overall heifer job still seems to be undersold, with trading types high $2 to $3 and a bit, but I think this window will quickly disappear. Special breeder lines for future cows are creating strong enquiry though.

January cattle purchases. I had the opportunity to buy some good runs of cattle in January for Duncan McLeod’s MAA Livestock and Property at Roma. I don’t do this often, but it kept my hand in. Speaking to one of Duncan’s clients in central Queensland, he said “they put most of the purchases out onto grass. Considering the heat this was good business and saw all of them averaging over 1 kilogram per day weight gain. The one pen put on feed created a $75 margin, which considering the heat was a great result as all cattle weight gains reduced during this time.”

Recent rains on this particular property include 130mm followed by another 60mm over the last three weeks – perfect.

Cattle slaughter over the past month has increased by 138,233 to 638,673 head. For the week ending 22 March, cattle slaughter was the highest since April 2020. The Easter break will certainly dampen slaughter as it has eased 30,808 head after record levels of slaughter. Year-to-date cattle slaughter is tracking 175,210 head- tracking 13% above 2023 slaughter.

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly – Clint Eastwood is 93 and still going strong. He was asked “how do you do it?”. Reply “Don’t let the old man in the house, sometimes it’s hard to keep him out but you have to fight” Great words.


Lambs for June – August, suckers are a long way off.

Heifers and light cows – check mouths

Splitters (not from Monty Python)

Light condition old ewes and cows – but check their mouths.

Light lambs

Scanned in-lamb ewes are still very buyable

Look after your lambing and calving females with supplementary feeding and dry lick

Keep training the kids

Geelong at $13 for the flag


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