Better presented first-cross ewes are making big money through the saleyards in the east of Australia, but seasonal conditions are playing havoc with younger lines and prices.
And according to agents, it’s only the tip of the iceberg, primarily in NSW, with prices expected to rise and numbers decline dramatically in 2019.
At the recent South Eastern Livestock Exchange (SELX) at Yass, NSW, 1½ year-old-ewes fetched a top of $334 per head, but ewe lambs didn’t meet the expectations, selling for less than anticipated.
And national records were smashed when 1½ year old-year-old first-cross ewes sold for $386 at Naracoorte’s combined agents sale in South Australia’s southeast in mid November.
However, across the 22,000-head yarding at Naracoorte, mostly young ewes, the average price of $277 eased by about $20 compared to last year.
At Bendigo, Victoria, the sale topped at $345, but enthusiasm waned on secondary lines with vendors taking their second or third draft of sheep home, having not met reserve prices.
Younger ewes are selling for cheaper rates due to producers factoring in the cost of carrying them for longer until they could rear a lamb and produce a return.
Jock Duncombe of Duncombe and Co. Livestock, who sold the top pen of ewes at Yass, said the market is only exceeding expectations for better presented ewes.
“Purchasers are going to be more selective due to the tight seasonal conditions, so they are going to be buying better presented, well-grown ewes,” Mr Duncombe said.
“There is definitely a smaller percentage of those type of ewes that have had artificial feed to get them up to that standard.
“The guys that are just idling through, they’ve just got to meet the market and take what they can get.”
With another first-cross ewe sale in early January 2019 at SELX, Mr Duncombe said they won’t see anywhere like those numbers at the sale last week.
“There was 15,000 and there might be half that at the next sale,” he said.
“Some of that is driven by the season, people have been forced to sell earlier than what they would normally anticipate because they just don’t have the feed to take them to the next step.”
He said in 12 months time, if we get back to some sort of normality with the seasonal conditions, first-cross ewes will be extremely expensive and scarce.
“Merino producers are joining Merinos to their cast-for-age or older ewes on the back of strong wool prices which is phasing out a lot of those Border Leicester-cross lambs from older Merino ewes,” he said.
“They are reverting back to a self-replacing flock instead of buying in ewes, which will save money and if they are going to cut $60 to $80 worth of wool off a Merino ewe in a 12-month period then that is a lot easier to achieve then sell a first cross ewe for $300.”
Yet, he said there is still confidence in the market.
“Every week that goes by, more producers are selling lambs and getting money in their pockets,” he said.
“They are going through their old ewes and cashing those in for very healthy returns – older crossbred ewes are bringing $130 and lambs are returning $160 to $180.”
Tom Dennis, livestock manager at Elders Naracoorte, who has clients into Victoria, said there has been a lot of sheep come in from the western and eastern divisions of NSW, which played a role in their average dropping at the Naracoorte sale.
“A lot of cheaper sheep have come south from drought affected NSW and even though people are out and about and ready to buy ewes here, there is a critical mass,” Mr Dennis said.
“We were saturated. There was only a number of ewes that could be bought at a premium.”
“Bearing in mind lamb prices are so much higher, it actually got a bit tight.
“It should have been all records and people running around giving high fives, but we had bought in sheep early out of NSW and it out a lid on everything.”
But Mr Dennis said the SA producers wont be in the same boat as NSW in terms of ewe prices and volumes next year.
“I think those that are true to the production system of breeding a first cross ewe will stick with it,” he said.
“The big loss of sheep numbers is in western NSW and Broken Hill. They are down to two age groups.
“There will be a day of reckoning, it will first come in late February next year when they start to run out of lambs.”
He said if NSW gets an average season in 2019 those ewes that are available, will be “off the charts”.