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Strong demand puts Merino and crossbred lambs on equal pegging

Sheep Central, May 14, 2021

LAMB prices surged at saleyards in Victoria early this week, with heavy Merinos and crossbreds at times making equal money on a carcase weight basis.

MLA said prices lifted across most reported categories and markets for Victorian lamb sales this week, supported by key feeder and processor buyers in Ballarat and Horsham.

Merinos in Bendigo offered positivity for the lighter stock entering the market, as buyers favoured these carcase weights compared to the heavy trade crossbreds, MLA said.

The price movement helped produce a weekly lift in the Eastern States Daily Indicators for all lamb categories up to Thursday, except for restocker lambs.

After Thursday’s saleyard sales, despite dropping or holding on the day, the ESDI for heavy lambs had risen 15 cents to 786c/kg, by 17 cents to 827c/kg for light lambs and by 8 cents to 812c/kg for trade lambs. The Merino lamb ESDI had risen eight cents week-on-week to 812c/kg. The restocker lamb ESDI suffered a 43c/kg drop up to Thursday, closing at 869c/kg.

Meat and Livestock Australia said Merinos performed well in Monday’s Bendigo sale, with buyers valuing lighter carcase weights.

This week, dearer prices were reported across all Victorian lamb sales, with Bendigo and Horsham yardings easing by 7000 and 3270 head respectively, while Ballarat’s yarding lifted by 1156 head.

MLA’s National Livestock Reporting Service said at Bendigo on Monday, Merinos dominated the lamb yarding, accounting for 25 percent of the offering, or 3295 head. Processors continued to value lighter Merino carcase weights comparative to the crossbred offering, with the price of these lifting 30¢ week-on-week to average 775¢/kg carcase weight (cwt), or $188/head, MLA said. The Merino lambs averaged 23kg cwt, which ensured competition remained strong for processors and restockers, with both keen on purchasing lighter animals, MLA said.

Elders Bendigo livestock manager Nigel Starick said he could not explain the lift in lamb prices, except as evidence of continued strong demand.

“I can’t see any other reason why.”

Mr Starick said Merino lamb prices have been strong for the past 4-6 weeks, with abattoir spot prices similar for Merino and crossbred slaughter weight lambs.

“I’ve actually been sending Merino and crossbred lambs to an abattoir at the same rate.

“I’ve never ever seen that,” he said.

“These are averaging around 27-28kgs cwt and I think there is an abundance of lambs over 30kg cwt, which has been causing the guts ache in the market.

“But with all these contract lambs coming into play in May/June/July, and all the contracts are full, there are still going to be a heap of heavy lambs, yet the yards have taken a bit of a lift.”

MLA said at Ballarat’s Central Victorian Livestock Exchange sale on Tuesday, feeder lambs were highly sought after, lifting 40c/kg week-on-week to average 914c/kg cwt, an increase of 4.6pc. Cooler temperatures are leading to greater turn-off in Ballarat, while cheap grain and a strong medium-term market outlook are encouraging feeders, driving competition and lifting the price week-on-week, MLA said.

MLA said processors were the key buyers at Horsham on Wednesday, accounting for 49pc of the yarding, or 4481 head. These lambs averaged 25.7kg at 797c/kg cwt, or $206/head. The increase of 1638 head week-on-week in this category did not deter buyers, as processors continue to value quality stock in the heavy trade weight category, MLA’s NLRS reporters said. The restocker lamb portion of the yarding declined by 83c/kg week-on-week to average 749c/kg cwt, or $130/head. Looking ahead

MLA said the quality of lambs hitting the market will be an important consideration for restockers and processors to watch as cooler conditions hit Victoria in the coming months and will drive lighter carcase weights.

Source: MLA.

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  1. Peter Small, May 14, 2021

    Remember when our mothers bought ‘two tooth Merino’ as their preference? The Merino lamb has two distinct advantages. First of all, the meat is lean, but most importantly, Merino meat is sweet; flavour without fat. The market is slowly waking up. As the percentage of Merino in the lamb declines, fat increases and flavour diminishes.

    • Jim Gordon, May 15, 2021

      Peter, if I may respectfully make a few comments. The hogget of yesteryear was tender because of supple meat and some intramuscular fat. They where older, giving time for the intramuscular fat to develop. No emphasis in those days on high-yielding dense meat, that the intramuscular fat had been bred out of. The pig industry discovered this twenty years ago and the interesting thing they discovered was that the highest yielding pigs — the best preforming pigs — they had trouble getting back in pig.
      The two things that bring people back for a second and third purchase of meat is taste and tenderness. Taste comes from intramuscular fat and I am led to believe it contains omega 3s that are good for us. Selvedge fat, which I am led to believe has omega 6s, is bad for us. Guess what gets removed as soon as that piece of meat hits the chopping board? Guess what type of fat we measure for the ASBVs? The selvedge fat. This fat is very hard for the sheep to reabsorb in tough times, whereas the intramuscular fat is very fluid and easily reabsorbed, and then put back in times of plenty. This gives the sheep a ready source of energy for times of stress such as lambing etc. Intramuscular fat is like a built-in haystack, without the mice.
      Tenderness comes from supple meat with no connective tissue. This is meat that you can easily push around and push your finger in. And guess what we are encouraged to produce? High-yielding meat. This meat is close-grained and dense, with no intramuscular fat in it. The fat if any is selvedge fat. This meat is terrible. It has no taste and is not tender. The industry gets around this “tough meat problem” by killing younger animals, but there is no taste.
      There is a lot more to the intramuscular fat story than we realise. Better butter fat in the milk. Better behavioural patterns. Better energy transfer to the lamb, wool, meat and fertility for the joining of ewe lambs. We have only scratched the surface on intramuscular fat.

      • Peter Small, May 17, 2021

        Jim, that is all very interesting and makes complete sense. Do you know of research going on in this area? My great fear for the lamb industry is they will tick all the productivity boxes, but have a product that the consumer rejects. Is this not where selection indices can drive you, as similarities with the wool industry might suggest?

        • Jim Gordon, May 17, 2021

          Peter, from your suggestion many months ago, I have decided to try to get on the Australian Wool Innovation board. If I can, this is the area that I can be the most useful to the levy payer, knowing what we as an industry need to research ie. meat and wool. I believe I can tell from looking at the outside of an animal if it has tenderness and taste. If I can make this research happen and if I am right, it will be one of the most important research projects done for decades. It will apply to all animals; sheep, cattle etc.
          Your comment about ticking the productivity boxes is so true. A quick story. I had a good friend south of Canberra. He ran a cattle enterprise. At the start of the lamb boom, 10 or 12 years ago, he decided to sell all the cattle and purchased a mob of Poll Dorset ewes. He followed the ASBV’s closely with his ram purchases. He joined the $200 club in the early years for his lambs, with the heaviest lambs weighing 90kgs live. I said to him, would you ever kill one for yourself? He said God no, you couldn’t eat them and these were all going into the Canberra market for export and domestic. No wonder the housewife bought chicken next week.
          We have got to get back to quality, not quantity driven by numbers, in meat and wool. We need people to become very familiar with what their hands and eyes are telling them about softness etc. It is second nature to you.

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