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Sheep and lamb market 2023: the year in review

14 December 2023

Key points:

  • Market confidence has influenced producer decisions.
  • Increased volatility presents a challenge for producers trying to read the market.
  • A cyclical market will have inherent challenges for producers.

The sheep and lamb industry faced unprecedented challenges during 2023 and market confidence was shaken at various points, creating substantial movements in indicator pricing throughout the year.


The market outlook is heavily impacted by producer confidence, weather forecasts and prices. In previous years, favourable weather conditions had contributed to record high prices as producers expressed confidence in the market.

However, this year was marked by uncertainty. According to the Sheep Producer Intentions Survey, key areas of concern included live sheep exports, potential increases to input costs, and the Bureau of Meteorology declaring an El Niño in September.

Although underlying industry conditions were generally strong throughout the year, the outlook seemed relatively negative at some points as poor long-term weather forecasts met with higher costs and an unsettled global environment, pushing prices below what a ‘fundamentals’ analysis of conditions may have arrived at.  


The 2023 sheep and lamb market saw a rapid decline in prices over most of 2023, with indicators dropping by 40-70% from the start of the year to October, before lifting rapidly over the past six weeks.

Producers’ reactivity to market conditions leant towards faster destocking and restocking, depending on prevailing conditions. This was primarily driven by weather, as movements in the Australian livestock market usually are.  While the sheep and lamb market is not as reactive as the cattle market, demand for restocker lambs has tripled since October’s east coast rainfall and the spring flush of young lambs.

The large flock has created some concern among market participants regarding processor capacity. This was especially acute through the middle of the year, when drying conditions in some parts of the country were encouraging producers to turnoff sheep in anticipation of lower carrying capacity in the future. The arrival of rain in October, alongside record-high lamb slaughter figures, helped to assuage some of this concern, subsequently boosting market confidence and leading to a rapid increase in prices.

Looking forward

Rainfall across the east coast has injected positivity into the market as we move into 2024. The large Australian flock has been met with record export volumes and high lamb slaughter numbers through the year. In 2024, we are likely to see Australia retain its position as a major sheepmeat producer and the world’s largest exporter.