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Lamb slaughter up, but below year-ago levels

10 October 2019

Key points:

  • Lamb slaughter increased in August, although still back on year ago levels
  • Carcase weights are significantly higher than last year following heavy lamb price premiums
  • National mutton slaughter is back 31% year-on-year.

National lamb slaughter edged higher in August following lows in July, as early new season lambs started to enter the market. ABS reported slaughter still tracked 5% below year-ago levels, at 1.51 million head in August.

The tighter availability of old season lambs created a shortfall in supply. While this is similar to what happened in 2018, it is more pronounced as drought conditions continue to be felt nationally.

Despite these challenges, lamb carcase weights increased to 23.5kg carcase weight (cwt) in August, up 10% year-on-year. The prevalence of supplementary feeding and lot feeding lambs has increased, which is supporting heavier carcase weights.

Also, strong premiums were available to producers in August, in particular for heavy lambs, as processors competed strongly for limited offerings.

Supported by heavier carcase weights, lamb production lifted 4% on year-ago levels, to 35,400 tonnes shipped weight (swt) in August. The National Livestock Reporting Service (NLRS) has reported relatively strong processor throughput so far in October. However, there remains an expectation for reduced lamb numbers for the remainder of the year.

With fewer lambs available and the prospect of a seasonal decline in carcase weights, lamb production is forecast to fall 3% compared to 2018.

National mutton slaughter was recorded at 701,500 head in August. Processor throughout did see an increase compared to the month prior, however this was back sharply year-on-year, declining 33%. The prolonged destocking of breeding ewes witnessed last year significantly reduced the breeding flock, meaning a similar spike in turnoff is unlikely this year, despite poor spring prospects. Albeit, increased demand in export markets, specifically China, will continue to support prices and keep supply current.

Mutton production in August totalled 17,600 tonnes swt, back 31% year-on-year. The decline in production is in line with reduced slaughter seen across the same period last year. Sheep carcase weights were up 3%, averaging 25.1kg cwt in August, however, they are expected remain stable with 2018 levels for the remainder of the year.

© Meat & Livestock Australia Limited, 2019

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