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The mutton market has held fairly steady throughout the autumn, but it hasn’t experienced the same rebound as lamb in recent weeks. The national mutton indicator currently sits at 270c/kg, and last week’s rolling average was about 45% lower year-on-year. With the first frost for many sheep producers just around the corner, signifying the winter slow-down for pasture growth, is there much upside in sight for mutton?

Last week’s rolling average price of 236c/kg was 50% below the 10-year average for that week, and 57% below the five-year average. The average mutton price for the 2023-24 year so far is 211c/kg, which is just less than half of what it made in the 2022-23 year. We must go back over a decade (to 2012-13) to find an annual average price below what it is currently tracking for mutton. If we look at this comparatively to lamb, mutton is 150c/kg lower year-on-year; while the heavy lamb price is just 14c/kg lower, and trade and restocker lambs have risen.

Of course, it has been well documented that supply has been headed in the other direction, with East Coast sheep slaughter trending well above the five and 10-year averages. So far this year, weekly sheep slaughter is averaging 18% higher than for the same period last year, and 44% above that period in 2022. This is where it doesn’t stray away from lamb, however, with lamb slaughter averaging about 20% higher so far in 2024.

On the demand side, mutton export volumes climbed back above year-ago levels in April, up 20% for the month, which brought the year-to-date volume 17% higher year-on-year. Much like lamb, this has been driven by demand from the US, with the amount of Australian lamb headed there 158% higher for April, and 64% higher for the year so far compared to the same period in 2023. Our major market China lost ground in April and is back 10% for the year-to-date, but volumes headed there have risen 23% for the 12 months ending April.

Restockers are always part of the demand equation, and while Meat and Livestock Australia reported that it was them, along with lotfeeders, that helped lamb prices firm up last week, the National Livestock Reporting Service shows restockers purchased less than 100 of the 37,500 head eligible for the current Mutton indicator. At Wagga Wagga last week trade mutton demand was hit and miss, while scanned-in lamb Merino ewes had the biggest offering of all sheep categories on AuctionsPlus last week (including lambs), and prices held firm but clearance was only 27%. 

What does it mean?

With seemingly little appetite for restockers to boost numbers from outside their own flocks, they are unlikely to offer much in the way of more competition for mutton, especially if significant widespread rainfall doesn’t occur before winter. And while slaughter demand appears to be strong, ample supply means processors, who aren’t coming up against much competition, are unlikely to have to offer more in the short term. .

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Key Points

  • Mutton price still lacklustre at 10-year lows, lagging behind lamb.
  • Mutton slaughter increased in line with lamb, but still higher than the long-term average.
  • Restocker interest is subdued as many areas look for more autumn rain.

Click on figure to expand

Click on figure to expand

Data sources: Meat and Livestock Australia; AuctionsPlus, Mecardo

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