Lamb carcase weights up despite dry

13 June 2019

Australian Bureau of Statistics production data shows a rise in lamb carcase weights in April, despite continued dry conditions.

Key points

  • Lamb carcase weights rose to a new record despite the lack of pasture
  • Sheep carcase weights fell, in line with poor seasonal conditions
  • Both sheep and lamb slaughter declined, primarily due to public holiday interruptions

Carcase weights

Nationally, average lamb carcase weights rose to a record 23.7kg/head for the month of April, which was 1% higher than the previous record set in the prior month.

Consecutive months of record-breaking lamb carcase weights have come on the back of limited pasture growth in most production regions Australia-wide. Given the limited opportunities available to fatten lambs on pasture, a logical explanation for the rise is growth in finishing lambs on supplementary feeding programs.

While the Australian cattle lot feeding sector is monitored via a quarterly survey (which tracks the number of cattle on feed nationally), no such data exists for the sheep industry. However, recent market commentary suggests price incentives are encouraging investment in lamb feedlots.

Moving in the opposite direction to lambs, sheep carcase weights continue to fall as drought conditions persist across the nation. The national average sheep carcase weight fell to 22.4kg/head in April, down 3% on the month prior and down 3% year-on-year. April marked the third consecutive month in which sheep carcase weights fell below lambs.

Slaughter

For the month of April, national lamb slaughter totalled 1.85 million head, down 6% on the previous month and down 5% year-on-year. Sheep slaughter declined 20% on the previous month, to 670,000 head, which was 5% above year-ago levels.

While April numbers were affected by multiple public holidays, NLRS weekly slaughter data suggests a continued downward trend in both sheep and lamb slaughter during May and early June. For the week ending 7 June, eastern states lamb slaughter totalled 340,000 head, down 3% week-on-week and down 12% year-on-year.

Eastern states sheep slaughter totalled 98,000 head for the week, up 2% on the previous week but down 8% year-on-year.

Prices

The majority of eastern states sheep and lamb indicators eased during the past week. On Tuesday, restocker lambs declined 44¢ week-on-week, to average 811¢/kg carcase weight (cwt). Mutton eased 2¢ to average 590¢/kg cwt, while trade lambs rose 6¢, to average 874¢/kg cwt.

Looking forward, supply is expected to remain tight, which should continue to support sheep and lamb prices throughout winter.

© Meat & Livestock Australia Limited, 2019

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