The annual winter price spike for sheep and lambs is expected to be subdued this year as prices continue to trade at near-record highs. A perfect storm of low sheep numbers and furious demand from east coast restockers has seen WA trade lamb prices hover between 700¢/kg and 826¢/kg since late February. The prices are way up on the 619¢/kg recorded for trade lambs during the first week of July 2017, 638¢/kg in July 2018, but nearly on-par with the staggering 872¢/kg in July last year. The State’s Trade Lamb Indicator gained 13¢/kg to close at 817¢/kg last Thursday — up 2¢ on the corresponding week last year. Prices rose in each category except for mutton, which fell a modest 5¢ to end the week at 547¢/kg — up 115¢/kg on last year. But as industry enters the official winter lull period for sheep and lamb supply, already-low slaughter figures are expected to fall as abattoirs shut up shop. Rabobank senior animal proteins analyst Angus Gidley-Baird flagged a modest increase during the annual high point in June and July. Mr Gidley-Baird was noncommittal when asked whether the winter price spike could see prices push higher than last year’s high point of 872¢/kg. “Prices will still go up ... but I don’t think they have much further to go up,” Mr Gidley-Baird said. “With the prices where they have been at the last couple of months, the fuel in the tank to push them higher will be fairly limited. “We should see prices lift slightly, probably to last year’s levels. “I would be very surprised if the prices reached much higher than that.” He said the current price highs had put processors under pressure and abattoir closures could soften any expected price rise. “I expect we will see processors across the board winding back production — dropping shifts, extending slowdown periods, or having a few weeks shutdown,” he said. “There will be some tough discussions amongst some of those processors’ board tables about whether or not they continue to seek out lambs. “If they are out there chasing lambs at $9-10/kg and they are only getting a 50-60 per cent throughput on their plant, doesn’t make much sense. “They may just close down and reduce shifts to reduce throughput. That would obviously mean there is less buying pressure.” LIVEstock Pricing managing director Rob Kelly said WA’s prices had spiked a lot earlier than normal and buyers were operating on lower margins much earlier than normal. “Last year, prices spiked to their highs in June, this year it happened in March after strong rains in the east, so margins got squeezed a lot earlier,” he said. “What the processors can’t be doing is carrying a heap of lamb they paid $8/kg for, and then suddenly the meat price drops.” “They are very cautious in the market and no one really knows what is going on. “It is really hard for processors to compete, even over east, to get stock at saleyards right now. “With the amount people are paying for breeding stock, for wool and meat, it just becomes ridiculously expensive. “I don’t see as much upside unless there is a huge international increase in demand or a reduction in freight costs, which I can’t see happening until international travel resumes.” Meat and Livestock Australia’s national sheep and lamb indicators have lifted across all categories since it returned from the March 25 COVID-19 reporting hiatus, which MLA has attributed to higher stock retention and a decline in turn-off.