With a bumper spring lamb crop predicted to start coming through physical and online saleyards, what is the breakdown of breeds expected to be?
The AuctionsPlus Market Insights team has analysed data of lambs traded through the platform between 2015 and 2020 to uncover key trends in the percentage of breeds being traded against total lamb throughput, while comparing year-on-year growth.
AuctionsPlus market analyst Emma Fessey said Merino lambs had been clear ringleaders of online lamb listings between 2015-2020.
However, Ms Fessey said it was evident that their dominance was being diffused through the increasing popularity of first and second-cross breeds, which had continued to gain traction over recent years.
"The traditional first-cross ewe breeding and paternal dominance of the Border Leicester and Merino is being challenged, with Border Leicester/Merino lambs seeing a 4 per cent decrease in total throughput listings since 2015 and Merino lambs seeing a 12pc decrease in overall throughput figures," she said.
"When this is compared with year-on-year growth however, first-cross Border Leicester lambs see a large increase in 2016 and 2017, with slight growth reductions in 2018 and 2019, whereas Merino lambs have seen ongoing year-on-year growth since 2015 despite their reduced total throughput percentage."
She said the changing composition of the Australian lamb flock as a result of ewes being joined with meat breeds depicted how producers, many of who were emerging from previous seasons of relentless drought, were focusing on breeding lambs for meat production to yield a higher turnover.
"This is a fundamental and potentially short-term shift from the traditional focus of replacing breeding stock and lambs for wool production to focusing on increased cash flow with the goal of cashing in on strong prime and store lamb prices due to limited supply," she said.
While there would always be a market for Merino and first-cross ewes, Ms Fessey said it was evident many producers were looking to other breeds as there was strong potential for prime lambs in the store market.
"[There is] growing momentum of the emerging Australian White and White Suffolk-sired breeds as inroads to the prime lamb breeding industry, particularly seen in Australian White/Dorper listings which have increased from just shy of 500 head in 2015 to over 11,000 in 2019," she said.
"Additionally, notable exponential year-on-year growth in both Australian White and White Suffolk-sired lambs is evident, particularly between 2016 and 2017 where strong seasonal conditions amplified the amount of these lambs seen online.
"With a 180 degree flip in seasons from 2019, it will be interesting to see what 2020 will bring for first and second-cross lamb listings."
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She said White Suffolk-sired lambs had seen continual overall growth since 2015, with total lamb throughput increasing 2-3pc and large year-on-year growth seen in 2016 and 2017, with listings slightly back in 2018/19 due to tough seasonal conditions.
For the 2020 year-to-date, the top purchasing regions for White Suffolks are spread across two states which include the NSW Central West which purchased 14,789 head, followed by south-west Victoria, the NSW Riverina, South-West Slopes and Planes and northern Victoria, respectively.
Ms Fessey said Merino lamb purchasing regions had remained relatively consistent between 2015-2020, however challenging seasonal conditions across most of the country and particularly in areas such as the NSW Central West in previous years had impacted this.
"Purchasing numbers significantly decline as producers enact drought management procedures such as destocking and holding onto key breeding stock," she said.
"The 2020 year-to-date shows exciting signs of stock returning to these key purchasing regions and it will be interesting to observe how the store lamb season evolves over the coming months."
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