Category: Lamb

Lamb forecasts in sheep shape

The data prepared by the team at TEM points to confidence in the lamb market into 2022 and beyond. Where does StockCo see the opportunity? COO Tim Pryor says “It’s the one percenters that count. Our most successful clients who consistently deliver great trading margins are really focused on doing the little things right – drench frequently and move to a fresh paddock, treat for fly or lice before you see the signs, know how much you have and the quality of your feed – get nutritional advice, vaccinate proactively for things like pulpy kidney. The market is out of our control, but best practise management is without doubt the common thread we observe when paying out strong trading margins to our clients”.

Author – Matt Dalgleish, Thomas Elder Markets

The Snapshot

  • The TEM ESTLI fair value model is currently predicting an annual average of 846c/kg for 2022 and 877c/kg for the 2023 season.
  • It is not uncommon to see variance in price between 15-20% above and below the annual average price during the year for the ESTLI, suggesting that we could see a winter peak above 1000c/kg cwt and a seasonal low towards 700c/kg cwt in 2022.
  • A trade matrix demonstrates that under these forecast conditions there is money to be made buying restocker lambs at current prices.

The Detail

Updated forecast modelling of the Eastern States Trade Lamb Indicator (ESTLI) points to successive seasons ahead of relatively strong lamb pricing. The Thomas Elder Markets (TEM) fair value model for the ESTLI takes into account demand and supply factors that have historically been a key influence on the value of trade lambs in the eastern states and provides an annual average fair value price forecast to 2023, based on these supply and demand metrics.

ESTLI Fair Value Model Annual

The model suggested an annual average value for the ESTLI of 820c/kg cwt for the 2021 season. The actual annual average for the ESTLI this season has been 863c/kg, as at early December so we have slightly undercooked it. However, moving into the next few seasons the forecasted annual price of the ESTLI is showing strength.

Meat and Livestock Australia are expecting increased lamb slaughter volumes as the flock rebuilds over the next few years, usually this acts as a dampener on prices, but strong sheepmeat export prospects, a recovering global economy post Covid-19 and an Australian dollar that is trending lower is working to support the price of trade lambs into the 2022 and 2023 seasons. Indeed, the TEM ESTLI fair value model is currently predicting an annual average of 846c/kg for 2022 and 877c/kg for the 2023 season.

Historic ESTLI percentage price gain/loss patterns within the season demonstrate that price peaks are common during winter and the spring flush of new season lambs often corresponds with a seasonal low ebb to market pricing.

On average, it is not uncommon to see variance in price between 15-20% above and below the annual average price during the year for the ESTLI. This would suggest that on a forecast annual average of 846c/kg next year in the ESTLI we could see a winter peak above 1000c/kg cwt and a seasonal low towards 700c/kg cwt. Higher annual pricing in the ESTLI for 2023 could even see the seasonal peak heading towards 1050c/kg cwt.

Back of the envelope analysis of a simple lamb trading scenario highlights some good opportunities for the lamb producer into the next few years. Assuming the following trade situation:

  • Buy 30 kg liveweight restocker lamb
  • Carry to 50kg liveweight heavy lamb and sell
  • Skin value of $5 and dressing percentage of 45%
  • Allowance of $25 per head costs for items such as transport, shearing, animal welfare and finance if applicable (Note – different enterprises will have different cost structures, your own per head costs can be added/deducted from the final margin if they are lower or higher than the $25 allowance)

Last week 30kg restocker lambs at saleyards in Victoria and NSW were fetching prices close to the 1000 c/kg cwt mark. Based on a 1000c/kg buy price and an estimated sale price nearer the ESTLI fair value model average of approximately 850c/kg cwt would net a per head profit, based on the trading assumptions, of $36.

As the matrix highlights, picking up cheaper restocker lambs and/or selling for a higher value could net as high as $50-$70 per head. On the other hand, selling toward the lower end of the forecast range for 2022 still manages to eke out a profit, albeit marginal at around $5-15 per head.

To feed or not to feed

That is the question – A look at gross margins on a lamb feedlot trade.

As a specialist livestock funder, we are fortunate to work closely with our clients to understand the fundamentals of what drives weight gain performance. Taking it a step further, the data on performance we capture helps us and our clients make timely and strategic decisions.

We have seen a significant shift toward lamb feedlotting. The investment of time, education and technology in this space has evolved from a drought management mechanism, to first class outfits delivering on-spec product with confidence.

The attached article from TEM talks to the performance of lamb feedlotting over time, with a retrospective outlook. As a precursor to the article, we’ve provided the following observations from our Regional Livestock Managers who are on the ground, working closely with their customers.

  • Be across your ration and what’s in it. Margins can be skinny therefore mortalities due to a ration which is too hot can quickly eat into profits. Get the right nutritional advice.
  • Consider the use of pellets.  More and more pellet manufacturers are entering the market. They often include necessary buffers and reduce risk of mortalities through acidosis.
  • Weigh consistently and pen lambs accordingly.  Shy feeders can go downhill quickly if they are not getting an opportunity to feed and being bullied out by heavier lambs.
  • StockCo trends being observed – Store lambs are being purchased at heavier weights (approx. 40kg), with the view of getting them onto a ration faster and turning the trade around within 60-80 days.  Some mixed farming operations are achieving 2 or 3 trades over the Spring and Summer months using this method, running lambs on post-hay paddocks and post-harvest stubbles before finishing on farm in containment pens.


Author- Matt Dalgleish, Thomas Elder Markets

The Snapshot

  • Since 2005 the long-term average gross margin has been a $38 profit per head of lambs in the feedlot.
  • Bearing in mind that since 2005 the lamb price has tripled it is probably a more accurate to measure the lamb feedlot margin in percentage terms relative to the prevailing lamb price.
  • As the percentage margin trend identifies this has not changed much over the last fifteen years, sitting at about 24% of the lamb sale price.
  • Margins below a 4% gain or above a 43% profit would be considered extreme, based on the historic variation in the percentage margin.

The Detail

There is growing interest in the idea of feedlot feeding for lamb fattening, not just to accommodate times when pasture is tight during drought, but as an ongoing dedicated feed regime as we see in cattle feedlot systems.

Victoria and NSW are the nation’s largest lamb rearing states, so two gross margin models were created for each state to assess the monthly margin achievable, based on average monthly feed and lamb pricing opportunities in each region. Given that lamb and feed grain markets in each region often follow closely there are subtle differences between gross margins in NSW and Victoria, but the general trend shows both margins are usually within $5-$10 of each other.

Feedlot Gross Margins - Monthly Average

The following trade scenario was established for each state:

  • Buy 40 kg liveweight feeder lamb based on average monthly price levels in each state
  • Feed for two months assuming a ration of 75% barley, 15% oats and 10% roughage with respective pricing relevant to each region. It is understood that oats are being replaced with lupins/beans, unfortunately there is limited historic price series data for this feed input, so the ration has retained oats.
  • 75 kg of feed purchased per lamb at the time the feeder lambs are purchased, locking in the feed cost.
  • 25 kg consumed by lambs on average per day with a daily weight gain estimate of 330 grams (feed conversion ratio of 3.75 to 1). A two-week ration induction phase is included in the feed regime, however total feed consumed/weight gain is averaged over the time the lamb spends in the feedlot.
  • Lambs to be sold at 60kg liveweight, after a 20 kg weight gain, at the prevailing average monthly heavy lamb price in each state

Combining the gross margin of both NSW and Victoria we can analyse the average feedlot margin achievable within the south eastern mainland of Australia. Since 2005 the long-term average gross margin has been a $38 profit per head of lamb in the feedlot, with a normal fluctuation between $17 to $59 as demonstrated by the 70% range boundary. The historic trend in the gross margin shows that movements under a loss of $4 per head or above a profit of $80 per head would be considered extreme.

Lamb Feedlot Gross Margin - Monthly Average

Bearing in mind that since 2005 the lamb price has tripled it is probably a more accurate to express the lamb feedlot margin in percentage terms relative to the prevailing lamb price. This way we can see if margins have increased over the last decade and a half or if the higher margins achieved since 2013 are proportional to the increase in the lamb price. As we can see by the margin trend the gross margin has increased by around $25 profit in 2005 to $55 by 2021.

Gross margins as a percentage of the lamb sale price highlights that long term average margins sit at 24% of the lamb sale price. As the percentage margin trend identifies this has not changed much over the last fifteen years. In percentage terms margins have usually fluctuated between 14% to 34%, as highlighted by the 70% range boundary. Margins below a 4% gain or above a 43% profit would be considered extreme, based on the historic variation in the percentage margin.

Lamb Feedlot Gross Margin - Percentage of lamb sale price

Gross Margin Seasonality

A seasonal perspective of the NSW lamb feedlot trade shows that the margin tends to fluctuate between a $10 to $70 gross margin profit throughout the season with the margin tending to narrow towards the last quarter of the season.

The NSW average seasonal margin shows an increased level of stability during the first half of the year and higher potential volatility toward the end of winter. Often the northern hemisphere grain markets see turbulence during the middle of the year as the northern hemisphere harvest draws closer. The higher global price volatility in grain prices can have an impact on Australia feed grain prices at this time leading to uncharacteristically higher or lower gross margins on the NSW lamb feedlot trade.

NSW lamb feedlot gross margins

The 2020 and 2021 trend has demonstrated the potential for volatility in NSW margins in August with 2020 registering a loss in excess of $25 per head. As a direct result of COVID19, the heavy lamb price took a hit at this time due to lower export demand and a capacity issue in Victorian abattoirs sweeping through to the northern markets.  Meanwhile August 2021 has recorded a $90 gross margin profit. October 2021 saw the NSW lamb feedlot margin achieve $62 profit per head, nearly 70% higher than the average October margin of $37 per head, according to the ten-year average trend for October.

Victorian lamb feedlot gross margin

The seasonal pattern for the Victorian lamb feedlot trade shows a higher degree of variation throughout the year, compared to the NSW pattern with fluctuations between $15 to $80 profit per head. As was the case in NSW, the Victorian experience is also for higher margin volatility during late winter with a similar wide disparity in margins seen during August 2020 and 2021. August 2021 saw Victorian gross margins extending over $110 per head profit, meanwhile the 2020 August period saw losses nearing $18 per head, again drawing reference to the impacts of COVID19 mentioned above.

Margins in Victoria have eased since the August 2021 peak to see a gross margin of $85 profit recorded for October. Despite this recent decline the current Victorian margin sits at levels that are nearly double the October ten-year average of $43 per head gross margin profit.

Lambs to the slaughter

What’s left for lamb and sheep slaughter volumes into spring and summer?

Author- Matt Dalgleish, Thomas Elder Markets

The Snapshot

  • Approximately 10 million lamb need to be turned off in the second half of 2021 in order to reach the MLA target of 20.3 million head of lamb processed by the end of the year.
  • Lamb slaughter volumes need to replicate the pattern set in the second half of 2020 in order to reach this target, which seem achievable.
  • However, sheep slaughter volumes need to increase 40%-45% above the levels set in the second half of 2020 to reach the MLA target of 6.1 million head of sheep processed, which appears to be a tough ask given the favourable season expected.


The Detail

As we enter spring, we can calculate what is left for lamb and sheep slaughter if we are to hit the Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) annual slaughter targets for 2021. We know the season will help dictate how many lambs or sheep are slaughtered in the remainder of the year, but it’s still worth taking a look at the forecast annual projections from the MLA June sheep industry update and assessing what they mean for upcoming supply.

MLA are anticipating annual lamb slaughter of 20.3 million head by the end of the year. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) quarterly slaughter data demonstrates that as of the June quarter there have been 10.3 million head of lamb slaughtered so far this season. This leaves 10 million head for the remainder of the season if we are to reach the MLA forecast.

Normally we see a lull in lamb slaughter volumes in quarter three, as the average seasonal pattern demonstrates. If we assume a similar pattern to lamb slaughter flows as outlined by the average trend for the remainder of this season, we can expect around 4.7 million head of lamb processed in the September quarter and 5.3 million head in the December quarter to meet the MLA annual target of 20.3 million head. This would replicate the volumes seen in the second half of 2020.

A look at weekly east coast lamb slaughter volumes as reported by MLA demonstrate that we would need to see weekly slaughter volumes between 330,000 to 350,000 head per week to match the level of lamb slaughter we saw in 2020. As the current season trend outlines, we have been managing weekly levels of this magnitude since returning from the Easter break in April, so it certainly seems achievable.

The picture for sheep slaughter is somewhat different. MLA are expecting to see 6.1 million head of sheep processed for the 2021 season. However, as of the middle of the year there have only been 2.3 million head of sheep sent to meat works according to the ABS June data release.  This leaves approximately 3.8 million head of sheep required to be processed for the second half of the year to meet the MLA target.

As the average pattern for sheep slaughter demonstrates it is not uncommon to see a seasonal lull in processing volumes in the June quarter, with volumes often gaining momentum into quarter three and four. Assuming a similar pattern of sheep slaughter as the average trend we would need to see a 40%-45% lift in slaughter on the volumes seen during the second half of 2020 to meet the MLA target of 6 .1 million head of sheep processed by the end of 2021. This would equate to around 1.7 million head of sheep processed in quarter three and 2.1 million head for quarter four, if volumes were to mirror the average seasonal pattern.

The favourable season, low supply and strong intent to rebuild the flock has seen weekly sheep slaughter volumes persist at the lower end of the normal range for much of 2020 and 2021, as highlighted by the east coast weekly slaughter figures reported by MLA. In order to reach the MLA target of 6.1 million head of sheep slaughter by the end of 2021 we are going to need to see weekly slaughter volumes average around 100,000 head to the end of the year.

With the forecast for a wetter than normal spring and the prospect of a heap of green pasture available into summer it seems unlikely there will be much incentive for producers to turn off sheep at this magnitude to reach the MLA target of 6.1 million head.

The current sheep-breeding market – why now’s the time to act

After multiple years of drought conditions, the current La Nina weather system has given Australian sheep owners a much-needed reprieve.

As the country comes out of drought, farmers – particularly across Australia’s east coast – find themselves coming into a much more favourable season, with plenty of grass available for livestock to utilise. This in turn has led to a very competitive re-stocker market, resulting in high female sheep prices – and producers are now faced with the challenging decision of when or if to buy.

But with these favourable conditions comes the problematic issue of affordability and cashflow management. A lot of drought-hit producers had to reduce their sheep numbers in order to remain viable, and many now find themselves with limited capital on hand to reinvest. Additionally, many producers had money tied up in purchasing fodder to help their existing animals survive the drought – a situation that now further compounds the issue. In what’s currently a hugely competitive market, with large numbers of farmers wanting to rebuild their flock, many are struggling to find the initial outlay that lets them invest whilst the outlook is promising.

With replacement ewe prices varying anywhere from $350-$400+/hd, the thought of spending that amount can be a daunting one – particularly when, over the past 12 months, the lamb and mutton market has seen a considerable amount of volatility that casts doubt on whether these prices are justifiable. A productive ewe has to raise a lamb or twins to compensate for those that don’t, and a sudden shift in carcass values could mean the difference between making the right call or owning some very expensive animals.

It’s this situation that’s led to many farmers approaching StockCo about our breeder finance offering – a product that means they can avoid having to outlay a large sum of money to get themselves into a line of ewes. Instead, breeder finance enables them to spread the cost of the sheep – or cattle, where relevant – over a number of years, as well as offering a chance to free up additional funds to spend elsewhere in business, such as on infrastructure expansion or other farm improvements. After what’s been a challenging period for producers across the country, the signs ahead are finally promising – as long as the finance is in place to help farmers take full advantage of the conditions.

Supply falling and demand strengthening

A quick glance at Meat and Livestock Australia’s (MLA) weekly slaughter data suggested both sheep and lamb were following the normal trend.  This was not the case however, with the data lagged a week it was a case of supply tightening before the public holiday-induced decline.

Figure 1 shows the impact the rain started to have in the week ending the 24th January.  Lamb slaughter was down 5% on the previous week, and 9% on year earlier values (figure 1), while sheep were similar to last year, but down 9.5% on the week (figure 2).

Sheep and lamb yardings in the week ending the 24th showed a similar trend, but to a large extent.  Sheep yardings fell close to 30%, and lambs were down nearly 20%.  The rain has at least caused producers to take a wait and see approach.

Those who held to sell this week have been richly rewarded, with all east coast lamb indicators rallying strongly.

Figure 3 shows the Eastern States Trade Lamb Indicator (ESTLI) gained 30¢ this week to hit a three month high of 809¢/kg cwt.  We looked at restocker lambs earlier in the week which had the biggest gains.  Mutton was steady in NSW and lower in Victoria, but gained 66¢ to move above 600¢/kg cwt in SA.

WA values remain well behind the east coast, with the WATLI at 613¢, down 61¢ on the same time last year.  WA Mutton is just 17¢ below this time last year, but at 422¢/kg cwt is way off the east coast equivalent.

Next Week

There is yet more rain to come for some key sheep areas over the coming week, and given this, it is hard to see demand from restockers weakening.  If supply isn’t going to increase, and demand likely to get stronger, it can only mean support for prices.

Ovine yardings reaching a peak

It is the time of year when lamb yardings reach their seasonal high, driven largely by Victoria.  It was Sheep that reached a record last week, however.  This is no surprise given the very good prices at a time of year when they usually hit their lows.

East coast sheep yardings reached a new record last week, but only just.  There were 139,490 head of sheep yarded last week (figure 1).  This was only 321 head more than five weeks ago, but it’s a number which hasn’t been seen in at least 12 years.

Strong sheep yardings are being somewhat offset by weaker than normal lamb yardings.  Figure 2 shows lamb yardings were 14% below the same week last year, but in reality, it depends a bit on how you match your weeks up.  It looks like lamb yardings might be a week behind last year, but we should know if we have seen ‘normal’ supply by the end of next week.

Trade and Heavy Lambs found a bit of strength this week, the Eastern States Trade Lamb Indicator (ESTLI) bouncing off 700¢ (figure 3).  The spread between NSW and Victoria still stands at around 40¢, while WA prices fell back under 700¢ after four consecutive weeks of rises.

The heavy mutton supply has seen buyers able to pull prices back slightly.  The east coast Mutton Indicator fell 13¢ to 568¢/kg cwt.  Opposite to lamb, mutton in NSW is cheaper than Victoria.  This is probably a quality issue.

Next Week:

With no rain on the forecast as we come into Christmas, expect some big yardings next week.  What it does to prices will depend on how many sheep and lambs are booked up for the workdays in the break, but recent contracts would suggest processors won’t be scrambling for supply.  The last week might this time see the lowest lamb price since April.

Mutton slaughter rising, but prices steady

Sheep slaughter had its second highest week for the year as sheep continue to flow into markets.  There has been little impact on prices however, as with lamb, slaughter is down, there is still kill space to fill.

Chinese mutton demand continues to run hot.  Mutton slaughter was very high last week, yet the National Mutton Indicator remains at very strong levels, at 572¢/kg cwt this week.  Victorian Mutton did come back from record highs, losing 39¢ to 614¢/kg cwt.  Victoria is still the strongest in the state, just not as strong as last week.

Lamb slaughter remains well below last year, despite plenty flowing out of the south. The north-south split remains, but both NSW and Victorian lamb slaughter were 10,000 head below 2018 last week.

Figure 3 shows the Eastern States Trade Lamb Indicator (ESTLI) is still in decline, losing another 20¢ this week to 705¢/kg cwt. The ESTLI is still holding a 44¢ premium to last year, obviously being helped by tighter supply.

The National Mutton Indicator is at a 140¢ premium to last year, so it is doing a lot better.

WA Trade Lambs moved past the east coast this week, up 7¢ to 716¢/kg cwt, which combined with the ESTLI fall saw WA the more expensive.  In Victoria you could almost say trade lamb prices (686¢) tanked, losing 35¢ to be the cheapest lambs in Australia, apart from Tasmania (646¢/kg cwt).

Next Week:

The latest BOM outlook is less than promising for the east coast. If it remains dry we could see supplies remain strong, with females and Merino wethers adding to supply. If it gets wet, lamb prices probably have further to rally than sheep.

WA closing on the east coast

Despite the free-flowing supply in the south Victorian lamb prices found some support, while mutton moved to a new record. WA lamb prices have also rebounded strongly and are now not far off the east coast.

It might be that Victorian lambs are finding support from mutton. The spread between the two prices, usually quite large, has this week come into 78¢, with mutton at just a 10.5% discount. The mutton discount is about as small as it gets, but last time it was when restocking was in full flight.  This time it is more about export demand.

Figure 1 shows Victorian mutton sitting at a new record of 643¢/kg cwt, now well ahead of NSW. It might be that fat sheep are coming out of Victoria, supporting the ¢/kg rate, relative to lighter sheep in NSW.

Lamb supplies appear to be tightening in the west, with trade lamb prices rising to a 3 month high of 709¢/kg cwt. Figure 2 shows that lambs in the west are now coming close to their east coast counterparts, after being at a discount for some time.

Mutton in WA remains at a large discount to the east coast.  It seems supply is still outstripping kill space, but as lamb supplies decline we might see some upside in mutton. WA Mutton might not get to east coast levels but should get stronger

Next Week

Lamb slaughter is heading sideways, and it seems it might have hit its limit for now. This obviously bodes well for prices, with 700¢ looking like the support level. There are apparently plenty of lambs booked up for December but some space might become available if mutton supplies decline.

More of the same for lambs and sheep

Sheep and lamb markets are doing funny things. Lamb slaughter is well behind the same time last year, yet prices keep falling. Sheep slaughter is the same as last year, and on the rise, but prices remain steady.

Figure 1 shows east coast lamb slaughter, which for the week ending the 15th of November was 6% below the same time last year. Victorian lamb slaughter was very close to last year’s levels, it was NSW and South Australia dragging the chain.

With Victorian lamb supply starting to flow, the Eastern States Trade Lamb Indicator (EYCI) continued to drift lower. It wasn’t only Victorian lambs that were cheaper, however.  Victorian Trade Lambs were down 26¢ to 703¢/kg cwt, while in NSW they were more expensive but still down 24¢ to 732¢/kg cwt. The ESTLI was not surprisingly in the middle of the two main states, at 718¢/kg cwt (Figure 2).

The ESTLI is still 29¢ stronger than the same time last year, which is partly explained by the lower slaughter.

We looked at the stronger sheep demand earlier in the week and it has continued. Figure 3 shows sheep slaughter lifting again last week to equal last year’s highs. The east coast mutton indicator was steady at 594¢/kg cwt this week, a massive 169¢ premium on last year.

Lamb prices in the West found some strength this week, up 20¢ to 680¢ and a three month high.  Mutton prices are still behind the east coast, at 458¢, while restocker lambs look very cheap at 475¢/kg cwt.  We suspect it was a small yarding.

Next week

There isn’t much rain on the forecast for the next week and the BOM has today given another depressing three month outlook.  It might be more of the same for lamb markets as Victorian supplies continue to flow.

Market unable to sustain momentum

Grower reaction to the recent better wool market resulted in an increased offering, however, this proved too much for the market and it lost momentum this week. AWEX reported that the retracement was across the board, following the weak finish in Fremantle last week.

While the trend for the week was softer, on the final day some support was evident and Fremantle was quoted as “ending on an encouraging note”.

The Eastern Market Indicator (EMI) gave up the 19 cents gained last week to close at 1,555 cents. The AU$ fell marginally by 0.03 cents to US $0.679. This meant the EMI in US$ produced a small retracement, losing 13 cents for the week to 1,057 cents.

The softer market saw the Western Market Indicator (WMI) down 22 cents on the week to close at 1655 cents.

Again, growers were happy to resist the softer market. The pass-in rate increased to 16.1% for the week, up 9% on last week. The national offering of 38,297 bales was a 2,000 bale lift to last week’s volumes. Despite an increased offering, bales sold, at 32,143 was 1,500 bales fewer than last week’s total. This season’s bale clearance continues to lag well behind 2018 at a difference of 100,639 bales. The average weekly bales volume is currently 5,500 behind last year.

The dollar value for the week was $54.37 million, with the average bale value sitting at $1,691, $90 per bale below last week’s average. The combined value so far this season is $841.1 million.

The crossbred sector is following its normal pattern, finding its lows over the past 5 years in November & December. On a positive note, recent history shows a firming trend for the new calendar year. The skirtings market found good support, especially for better style finer types, while cardings remained largely in line with last week.

The week ahead

A relatively large offering is scheduled for next week’s sales with 39,280 bales currently on the roster across the three selling centres. Again we pin our hopes on the encouraging tone observed in Fremantle to the end of Thursday’s sales.