3. Carcase weights and farm incomes

Lamb and mutton production and carcase weights

  • Australian lamb production in 2014 is forecast to fall 1.6%, or 8,000 tonnes cwt, year-on-year, to 462,000 tonnes cwt. The lower production is underpinned by a forecast 3.1% decrease in lamb slaughter for the year, which was slightly offset by an increase in carcase weights. 
  • Drought conditions throughout 2013 saw the average carcase weight drop to a low of 21.5kg/head cwt, as diminished feed and water stocks, especially in NSW, pressured producers to turn off lambs earlier and at lighter weights. Following the autumn break in 2014, seasonal conditions improved markedly across most of the country, which is expected to push the national average carcase weight for the year back up to 21.8kg/head cwt, as producers have been able to finish lambs through to heavier weights.  For the first five months of 2014, average carcase weights have reached 21.9kg/head cwt.
  • Through to 2020, the average national lamb carcase weight is expected to remain fairly stable at 22.0kg/head cwt, from 2016 onwards. This stability is both a combination of the clear market signals from processors for consistency in weights and an ever increasing ability of producers to meet specifications.
  • Australian mutton production is forecast to contract 7.8%, or 17,000 tonnes cwt, on last year, to 200,000 tonnes cwt. As is the case with lamb, the expected decline in production is underpinned by tighter available supplies, following the high levels of drought-driven slaughter in 2013. 
  • The average national sheep carcase weight is forecast to fall further in 2014, back 0.4% year-on-year, to 22.4kg/head cwt. 
  • Out to 2020, the national average sheep carcase weight is forecast to gradually increase each year, climbing to 23.0kg/head cwt in 2020.


Sheep farm income

  • According to 2013-14 ABARES results, the average farm cash income for specialist slaughter lamb producing farms in 2013-14 was estimated to have increased 30% year-on-year, to $91,000 per farm. This recovery is largely attributed to an expected increase in crop receipts, assisted by high winter crop production and favourable grain prices.
  • ABARES forecast lamb receipts to increase in 2013-14,despite expected similar lamb sales to the previous sales by specialist lamb producers are expected to decline slightly, in an effort to rebuild their flocks. These results demonstrate the projected rise in lamb prices due to a reduced breeding flock size and restocking activity restricting supplies and, therefore, boosting demand. Similarly, adult sheep prices are expected to be higher in 2013-14, and along with a forecast rise in average adult sheep sales, this is expected to support a 12% increase in sheep receipts for specialist producers. 
  • Crop receipts, on the other hand, are estimated to account for 28% of total cash receipts of specialist slaughter lamb producing farms (180 ha sown to crop), at $88,000 in 2013-14 – up 24% year-on-year. Similarly wool and beef cattle sale receipts are expected to increase in 2013-14, at $55,000 per farm and $30,000 per farm, respectively. 
  • National saleyard lamb indicators were stronger across all categories in 2013-14, compared to the previous fiscal year. The national trade lamb indicator lifted 23% year-on-year, averaging 483¢/kg cwt. With improved seasonal conditions and strong lamb prices in 2014, producers have been able to finish lambs to heavier weights and meet market specifications, which have assisted the growth in farm incomes during the fiscal year.