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What has 2024 got in store for lamb producers?

01 December 2023

Key points:

  • 49% of lambs born in 2023 will be sold in early 2024.
  • Lower producer sentiment is behind a forecast reduction in lamb flocks for 2024.
  • For the first time there are more meat breed lambs than merinos.

MLA and Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) conduct the Sheep Producer Intention Survey (SPIS) three times a year. The survey results of the October wave were released this week. The results provide great insights into the future behaviours of Australia’s sheep producers and can be dissected on a state and size basis. Information collected in the survey includes:

  • producer sentiment
  • lamb numbers
  • timing of expected lamb sales
  • the number of lambs on grain
  • breed demographics of the lamb cohort
  • expectations regarding access to labour, prices, and input costs
  • marking rates
  • sales channels.

Timing of sales:

The survey results indicate that 49% of the 2023 lamb cohort will be sold in the first half of 2024, this is an increase on the 2023 result (46%). This will smooth out the supply of lambs over a longer period – with less lambs being sold this spring, as a % of the lamb flock.

This retention of lambs until the first half of the 2024 calendar year means that prices may remain subdued for some time as supply doesn’t appear to be easing. This result is interesting given Australia recorded its highest ever lamb slaughter results last week – close to 500,000 head.


The survey results show that sheep producer sentiment for both the wool and sheepmeat sectors has fallen over the last year. Sentiment in the sheepmeat industry is down 109 points over the last 12 months, from +67 in October 2023 to -42 points this October. Sentiment for the wool industry has also dropped, but to a lesser degree. The wool industry sentiment only dropped 27 points, from +12 last year to -15 points now.

Prices and weather are the main drivers behind the sheep industry’s low confidence. Interestingly, given sentiment in the wool industry is higher than the sheepmeat sector we may observe a reversal of the recent trend towards higher numbers of meet breed sheep. This trend would take time to unwind and could impact breed demographics in 2024 and beyond.

Sale channels

The survey collects data on the sales channels that sheep producers are using. The data shows that producers use 1.3 different sales channels on average – with 50% of producers using saleyards in some capacity – down from 58% last year. The seasonal conditions and producers’ desire to secure available processor space and a set pric, has meant the number of sheep transacted through over the hook arrangements or forward contracts has increased 25% and 50% respectively. Producers using online channels have fallen as the flock rebuild matures and restockers become less active in the market.

Grainfed lamb

The number of producers finishing lambs on grain has increased 30% from 12% to 16% this year. This is in part due to the difference in prices between store and light lambs, and heavy lambs this year.


Despite the sentiment being higher for the wool industry, this was the first time that there were more meat breed lambs born than merinos. 38% of lambs born this year were prime lambs, ahead of merino lambs, which accounted for 37% of the lamb cohort.