State's lamb prices highest in the nation

Kate MatthewsCountryman

The price of WA lambs is up to 154c/kg above the eastern states indicator because of a supply shortage.

Traditionally, sheep prices in the east are higher than WA prices but since April, the market has seen a role reversal.

Last week WA heavy lambs made 611c/kg compared to 457c/kg as quoted by Meat and Livestock Australia’s National Livestock Reporting Service (MLA NLRS) eastern states indicator report.

And it’s not just heavy lambs — the price difference is across all categories.

WA trade lambs last week sold for 128c/kg more than in the east, light lambs made 108c/kg more, Merino lambs were 152c/kg higher and restocker lambs were 9c/kg more.

Department of Agriculture and Food figures show WA’s sheep flock has halved to an estimated 12.5 million over the past six years.

The annual turnoff of sheep and lambs is 7.7 million and is unsustainable but rebuilding the flock will be a slow process.

MLA’s 2011 sheep industry project report forecasts WA’s flock will fall further with rebuilding numbers not a reality until 2012–2013.

MLA NLRS livestock analyst Josh Anderson said dry conditions stopped WA producers from fattening or keeping their lambs.

“There is just not enough coming into the yards or available to go direct to processors and that’s why you are seeing those fairly significant prices paid, ” Mr Anderson said.

“It’s a situation where you can’t get live product from anywhere else.”

In the east, the oversupply of lambs starting affecting prices in April through to July and is just starting to rise in some categories.

Restocker lambs made 728c/kg in early April, before falling to 499c/kg in July. Last week they were at 506c/kg.

During the same period, trade lambs fell from 626c/kg in April, to 510c/kg in July and last week averaged 492c/kg.

When this year’s flush of spring lambs hits the market, WA prices could also fall.

Polly Trefort, from Hillside Abattoir in Narrogin, recently told prime lamb producers prices could come back to 500 to 550c/kg.

Among those selling spring lambs will be Max Whyte from Brimfield Poll Dorset stud.

“The sheep industry is looking extremely strong at present and we will probably get a few years of reasonable prices like we have got, ” he said.

Last month, one of his 11-month-old Poll Dorset ram lambs sold to WAMMCO dressed out to 33kg and returned $203. The consignment averaged $160 a head.

“We won’t have the prices we are seeing now when we get the flush of the season, ” Mr Brimfield said.

“You can’t really sustain $200 for a lamb when it has to be exported and I’m sure if most farmers could get $120 for sucker lambs, they would be happy.

“I’d just like to see processors pay a bit more for skins.”

“In the eastern states, they get $25 to $30 for skins and we get $5.”

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