Lamb slaughter declines but quality expected to improve

Lamb slaughter declines but quality expected to improve

Sheep
The yarding at a recent first-cross ewe sale at West Wyalong, NSW. Photo by Stephen Burns.

The yarding at a recent first-cross ewe sale at West Wyalong, NSW. Photo by Stephen Burns.

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New data has indicated the country has just recorded its lowest monthly lamb slaughter since January 2012 and lowest sheep slaughter in almost four years.

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New data has indicated the country has just recorded its lowest monthly lamb slaughter since January 2012 and lowest sheep slaughter in almost four years.

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data for May reported national lamb slaughter at 1.45 million head, 33 per cent below year-ago levels and the lowest monthly slaughter since January 2012.

The data showed that all states recorded significant reductions from year-ago levels, with South Australia throughput easing 40pc from May 2019 to 158,250 head.

NSW and Victoria slaughter reported declines of 18pc and 35pc to 387,300 and 710,600 head, respectively.

Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) said despite the widespread rainfall earlier in the year, competition in the store market between restockers and processors remained robust, pressuring the availability of finished lambs.

In line with reduced slaughter levels, national lamb production for May was 30pc below year-ago levels at 36,075 tonnes carcase weight (cwt).

However, MLA said carcase weights continued to be buoyed by lotfed lambs entering the market at a higher weight bracket.

In May, national lamb carcase weights averaged 24.9kg a head, 1.2kg higher than the same time last year.

ABS indicated that national sheep slaughter halved from year-ago levels to 325,900 head in May, the lowest since July 2016.

While significant declines from year-ago levels were reported across all states, SA saw the largest reduction, back 66pc to 20,020 head, while NSW and Victoria eased 45pc and 63pc to 116,400 and 93,770 head.

MLA said with the exception of January, national sheep slaughter had been tracking well below 2019 levels so far this year, as increased stock retention and two sizeable turnoff years in 2018 and 2019 limited the volume of sheep available for processing.

The steep decline in slaughter resulted in national sheep production falling 46pc year-on-year to 8161 tonnes cwt in May, with significant declines recorded across all states.

MLA said subdued sheepmeat production had placed downward pressure on exports, with sheepmeat export quantities tracking considerably below 2019 levels.

Thomas Foods International livestock manager Paul Leonard said they expected there to be not only more lambs than the previous 12 months, but for the quality to be better than there had been in the past few years.

"What lambs that are available in the next few months will be prime," Mr Leonard said.

He said in the past few years, only some lambs on the market had been at the killer stage, while a substantial percentage were still feeders.

This year most on offer should be ready to be processed.

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In the physical saleyards, at Naracoorte, SA, on Tuesday, MLA reported that numbers climbed slightly to 3000 lambs and 900 sheep.

These sold to a smaller field of trade and processor buyers including a number of Victorian-based buyers and a small amount of restockers.

At Corowa, NSW, on Monday, agents penned higher numbers with the beginning of some fresh new season lambs offered and MLA reported that domestic buyers showed added enthusiasm on theses lots.

Overall though, some processors were on hold and others weren't operating fully.

In Victoria, lamb supply recovered at Bendigo on Monday from its extremely low levels of previous weeks to push up to 10,000 head.

Buying, however, was impacted by COVID-19 outbreaks at some Victorian meatworks and winter slowdowns at others.

And on Tuesday at Ballarat, Vic, lamb supply was up to around 9000 head yarded, with the quality reported as plain to very good.

It was reported that not all of the usual buying group attended, with demand weaker across all weights and categories and resulting in prices dropping $20 to $35 a head to over $40 in places.

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