Analyst Intel

22 November 2019

ACROSS THE RAILS | Cull ewes hit their straps

By Suz Bremner

Lamb weaning is well under way and it is that time of year when cull ewes hit their straps in the markets with a boost in supply and prices. Saying last year’s market was good is a bit of an understatement but again we have seen it push to new levels in 2019. The few fingers of responsibility for that can be firmly pointed at strong schedule prices, high demand and low supply of lambs.

This time last year I sang the praises of a consistent year for mutton and, at the risk of repeating myself, 2019 has been almost a carbon copy though with a few extra dollars banked for farmers. High mutton schedules are leading the charge, of course, with North Island prices ranging from $6-$6.30/kg CW and South Island, $5.90-$6.40/kg CW. Compare that to last year’s levels around this time of $4.95-$5/kg CW average and it’s easy to see why buyers are comfortable putting their hands a bit deeper into their pockets. This has led to stronger markets at sale yards around the country and, taking a snapshot comparison of recent auction prices for cull ewes, we see the market has gained some hefty ground in 12 months though that increase has been spread over that period. At Feilding and Stortford Lodge most ewes are selling for $120-$235 while last year the range was $85-$160.

The South Island has again taken the cake for the highest prices so far, though as records were broken at Coalgate, where a few lines of ewes reached $330-$350 and fine-wool wethers sold to $340-$373. Temuka had a similar result with a lot of ewes making $170-$300, whereas this time last year $120-$255 was common. High cull ewe prices always do beg the question about what levels we will see come breeding ewe fair time, given the market will be underpinned by processors. The optimist in me looks forward to seeing good ewe retention and high returns but will they be record levels? Time will tell.