Survey says plenty of lambs still to come

lamb

The Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) Wool and Sheepmeat Producer Surveys have had a revamp. It’s now called the ‘Sheep Producers Intentions Survey’ (SPIS), and it has thrown up some very interesting numbers in its October data.

The SPIS is being produced by a different consulting group, with October being the first of the new reporting format.  However, the data around breeding ewe numbers and marking rates remain the same, and we can still use this for analysis of lamb numbers and shifts in the flock.

One of the main numbers we like to look at is the number of lambs marked in October.  Two-thirds of Australia’s lambs are marked in the July to October period, and as such, this number is a key pointer to how many lambs are going be available for slaughter from spring through to the autumn.

The headline number of estimated lambs marked in the four months to October 2022 was 24.25 million head.  This is 2.38 million head higher (11%) than in 2021. We knew this was coming with previous surveys pointing towards more breeding ewes being on hand.

From the previous surveys, we had identified that fewer merinos were being joined to merinos, and this has had a massive impact on lamb markings for merinos and ‘other’ breeds.  Figure 1 shows the number of merino lambs marked from July to October to be down a huge 21%.  The lower markings were driven by fewer ewes joined (16%), and marking rates falling to 88%, down from 93% in October 2021.

On the flip side ‘other’ lambs marked, which is largely made up of prime lambs (51%), and first cross lambs (25%) was up 50% on October 2021 with 4.9 million head more produced; for a total of 14.6 million head.  

A 50% increase in ‘other’ lambs is huge, but we need to remember that many of these will be kept on the farm for breeding; and that there will be fewer merino wether lambs to kill this year, so net supplies for slaughter might ‘only’ be up by a couple of million head.

Figure 2 shows that during spring and summer, slaughter rates have been higher, with MLA’s weekly data showing a 15% increase, and nearly 1 million more lambs slaughtered from September to January. 

What does it mean?

While lamb slaughter has been strong, there are still plenty of lambs to come.  The current price recovery could be a short-term, tight-finished lamb supply issue; rather than a sustained upward trend.

The more interesting thing to come out of the survey data is the shift away from Merinos.  Weaker wool prices last year, low mutton values, and a particularly challenging spring are putting more pressure on merino producers. The upside is lower supplies of wool for those still in the merino game.

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Key Points

  • The MLA/AWI Sheepmeat Producers Survey shows more lambs marked from July to October.
  • There was a fall in Merino lambs marked, and a massive increase in other lambs.
  • Supplies of lambs for slaughter are likely to remain strong over the coming months.

Click on figure to expand

Click on figure to expand

Data sources: MLA, AWI, Mecardo

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