Domestic Lamb

What will more lambs shorn in northern Victoria and NSW mean for the rest?

Terry Sim, November 2, 2016
These mid-May shorn August-September drop Poll Dorset cross lambs, 16.4kg cwt and mostly score 2s, sold for $20.50 at Cootamundra, NSW, on AuctionsPlus this week.

Shorn Poll Dorset cross lambs at Cootamundra, NSW.

LAMB production and seasonal dynamics are pointing to a big summer turn-off of heavy lambs in central and northern Victoria, and in New South Wales, possibly after the spring-early summer flush of lambs from southern Victoria and south-east South Australia.

Strong rain-driven pasture growth and cheaper grain prices have underpinned the shearing and holding of large numbers of lambs across central and northern Victoria, and in New South Wales, according to stock agents.

They report that many lamb producers in parts of Victoria and NSW have shorn lambs rather than sell them this spring, to avoid flystrike and seed infestation, and in reaction to fluctuating saleyard prices in September and early October.

Some lambs in New South Wales were shorn more than six weeks ago. The mass shearings have restricted supplies of lambs to saleyards and helped arrest supply-driven price falls in October, although saleyard supplies are starting to recover and shorn lambs are already being marketed in NSW saleyards.

The National Livestock Reporting Service reported that national lamb saleyard throughput last week was fairly steady with the previous week, at around 175,000 head – bringing the average weekly lamb saleyard supply for October to 179,058 head, 8 percent lower year-on-year.

The NLRS said processor activity in saleyards lifted last week to boost kill supplies. Last week, processor purchases across NSW saleyards were up around 10,000 head from the previous week and up 24pc year-on-year, totalling 62,138 head.

Restocker demand eased slightly over the same period, with around 3000 fewer lambs bought week-on-week and 10,000 head fewer than the same time last year, at 7916 head, the NLRS said.

Eastern states lamb slaughter last week totalled 384,763 head, up 3pc from the previous week, although 5pc lower year-on-year. Victorian slaughter lifted 3pc week-on-week, to 187,771 head, the highest weekly kill since January this year.

NSW lamb producers buoyed by cheap grain prospect

Delta Ag livestock manager at Wagga Aaron Mackay said many of the lambs in his area and the Riverina had been shorn, pushed along by the prospect of cheaper feed grain prices.

“All these blokes are looking for ways to convert their grain back into dollars.”

He said most producers had enough grass top fatten lambs, but many will also feed grain to increase weight gains. Mr Mackay said some producers have marketed light weight lambs.

“But the majority are going to hold firm and get their lambs to big export weights and even if the market doesn’t go up much from where it is today, they believe weight will overcome most factors.

“At the end of the day your trade blokes and the major supermarket operators will need lambs, and if they can’t buy trade weights they will buy the big lambs anyway – they are going to need lambs,” he said.

“They’re telling you they want trade lambs at 22-23kgs but they will buy lambs at 26-27kg just to get the numbers.”

Mr Mackay believed there will be a flush of lambs before Christmas with many lambs slow-doing during the winter due to grass being too long and the wet and cold conditions. The main flush will be in the New Year up to February-March as normal, he said.

“It will be about similar because the lambs aren’t any further in front, even though we’ve got more feed the lambs are actually behind, it was just too wet for too long.”

Mr Mackay said flies started to be a problem in crossbred and Merino lambs in

“I’ve seen lambs blown around the belly, up on the brisket and on the flanks, just for being sitting in wet conditions for too long.

“Anything will wool on it will fall victim to flies if it is not treated,” he said.

“We’ll have flies, seed and fires – that will be the talk of the summer, because when this dries off we’ll be setting on the biggest fire risk we’ve ever seen.

“It is the first time for a long time that pretty much all of New South Wales is experiencing tremendous conditions,” Mr Mackay said.

“There is not one part that has missed out on rains – it’s good everywhere.”

Mr Mackay said with sucker lambs at Wagga reaching “unbelievable” prices of $196-plus.

“We’ve seen big old lambs make over $200, but I’ve never seen suckers make over $190 before.

“We’re a bit like Captain Cook, we’re in uncharted waters as far as that top end of the job goes.”

Central Victorian producers have also shorn lambs

Last month Landmark Bendigo auctioneer Richard Leitch said many lamb producers had decided to shear their lambs prompted by price dips, fly and grass seed concerns.

“If the market stays up we will get lambs back in November-December, but I’m anticipating our true spring turn-off will be January, February, March.”

He said the Bendigo saleyards had two yardings of 21-28,000 lambs in early October and the average for September-October has been around 14,000, when the centre usually would yard 30-35,000 lambs on a Monday, and occasionally 40,000.

“By this time last year I had sold 6-7000 Merino lambs, this year I haven’t sold one, because all my Merino breeders have got that much feed in front of them they will shear their lambs and do a job with them.”

Mr Leitch expected a flush of 27kg-plus lambs in January-February, although some clients have already marketed all their lambs and averaged $115-$120 “and they’re rapt”.

“But there is still a lot out there – because we’ve had such a cold winter and no sun, a lot of lambs just didn’t do.”

South Australian lamb turn-off business as usual

Pinkerton Palm Hamlyn and Steen director Robin Steen said at this stage there have been fewer lambs through yards than normal, indicating many might have been sold over the hooks or contracted. Not many lambs in the South Australia’s south-east have been shorn yet and he expected most will be turned off before seed infestation becomes a problem.

“You really can’t buy a store lamb under five bucks (500c/kg cwt).”

With bottom-end lambs making $95-$105, more being paid for better trade lambs and heavy lambs making over $150 over the hooks in South Australia, at this stage SA breeders were probably selling their lambs without shearing them, he said.

“I wouldn’t have thought there were a hell of a lot of people shearing lambs worth $120, whereas in NSW they tell me they are shearing $120-$130 lambs over there.”

Mr Steen said the sale of lambs out of South Australia’s Mallee has almost finished and the rest will be shorn.

“A lot of those mid-North blokes have feedlots and they drop them in the late winter-early spring and take them through onto grain.”

Mr Steen said Naracoorte would have another two weeks of large lamb numbers before the spring turn-off finished.

“There is not going to be a big over-supply I don’t think.

“Ouyen is finished, Horsham is finished and the Nhill boys reckon their lambs are gone, so the area that gets the seed north of the highway, they are all finished.”

Mr Steen said it was looking like lambs in south-east SA and south-west Victoria would hit markets with less northern competition.

Fly activity was minimal among lambs in South Australia and he expected most woolly spring lambs would be sold before seed became a problem, he said.

But Mr Steen said the SA lamb turn-off would still be split between the breeders consigning lambs before Christmas and the finishers selling next year.

“The finishers will buy and shear them and they will come out in February, March, April, May.

“But I don’t think you want to have a shorn heavy lamb coming out too early – I can see January and February, because they have shorn all these good lambs, they are going to have a heap of weight in them and they are not going to be trade lambs,” he said.

“You might see a (price) differential where the trade lambs are actually going to sell alright and the heavies are going to be back off a bit to where they were last year.”

Will the south-west lamb turn-off clash with the north?

Although the good season provided options, Lanyons auctioneer Warren Clark said south-west lamb producers would probably market their lambs at the usual time.

“We’re not forced into a corner this year, but what our problem is going to be is I think we are going to compete strongly with the north, like we haven’t in the past few years.

“The north have run out, they haven’t sold big numbers of lambs and we are going to come on with our early lambs and probably compete with a lot of their lambs, which is going to be a little bit unfortunate,” he said.

“People down here are traditionalists; we start the first week after the Melbourne Cup and they will keep selling.

“Your later southern lambs are going to be a little bit slower because they haven’t had any sun.”

Kerr & Co Livestock auctioneer Craig Pertzel said the shearing and holding of lambs in northern areas might be the “saviour” of some south-west lamb producers.

“We’re always the back half of November, December into Christmas – that’s not going to interfere with shorn northern lambs in January-February.”

Mr Pertzel for south-west Victoria to have a good lamb-selling season north has generally got to be clear of lambs.

“If they have sold them that’s the best way, but if they’ve shorn them, that is equally as good.”

Mr Pertzel said south-west lamb producers generally don’t deviate with their lamb marketing, with most wanting to turn their lambs off by Christmas with a few delivered over the hooks between Christmas and New Year. It’s a big risk to hold lambs into January and risk them losing their freshness in hot weather without having late country, he said.

Store lamb prices expected to hold

AuctionsPlus market operator Anna Adams said the online market for store lambs softened slightly during October due to a flush of numbers caused by the typical seasonal turnoff and the offering of stock that had been held due to wet weather suddenly being able to move.

She said aid store lamb prices are expected to pick up and remain firm through summer.

“There will be simply less of this article traded due to the season, with breeders able to hold on and grow out to slaughter weights, something the market has been unable to do the past couple of years.

“With the current season and projected lower grain prices, there will be an opportunity for producers to value-add to their stock, resulting in lambs finished earlier, potentially leading to supply challenges in autumn and winter.”


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  1. Tom Casey, November 8, 2016

    Good article. The agents are still talking the job up. What do the processors say? From what I gather, they need to pull it back under five dollars?

  2. Stefan Spiker, November 4, 2016

    I find it very interesting that we have a NSW agent telling us that producing trade lambs at 22-23 kg that the consumer requires is not important and that selling lambs above 25kg will be ok, because the processors will still buy them without any concern for the most important people in the system – the consumers. Just what is needed to stuff the domestic market as consumers do not want big cuts from heavy lambs. Think about it.

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