THE claim of a record price paid for slaughter mutton rather than for lamb has again highlighted the 'paper thin' supply of surplus sheep suitable for processing.
The claim, which came from the Horsham saleyard, cited the sale of a pen of rising five year-old Merino wethers, August shorn, that made $189.20 a head and was sold to SA export processor T&R Pastoral, Murray Bridge, South Australia.
Auctioneering agent, Dale Dryden of Rodwells, said the 79 Langlea-blood wethers were part of a flock dispersal conducted for Alan Smith, Gerang Gerung.
A second pen of the same (comprising 52 head) made $155, while a line of younger 2-3yo wethers of the same description, made $153, with both lots taken for slaughter.
“The previous best sale of mutton at Horsham was $174”, Mr Dryden said.
“We’re keen to know if there has been anything paid for mutton that has been higher."
“The Smith wethers were huge. Buyers at the market estimated their weight in the 30-40 kilogram caracase weight range”.
Mr Dryden said demand on the day was very strong and prices were quoted firm to $2 a head dearer.
The sale also cleared woolly crossbred ewes to a high of $155 and bare shorn lines to $143.
Woolly Merino ewes sold for slaughter made $140-$148 with a jacket, and to $130 for bare shorn lots.
Eastern states slaughter records collated by the NLRS reveal mutton processing has plunged to historical lows to the end of March.
Typically, this is a solid time in terms of supply as preparations gear up annually for the new cropping season.
The slaughter of mutton last week dipped 13 per cent below the levels of a year ago, and is currently 66pc below the turn-off levels of autumn 2009.
Live exporters too are finding numbers difficult to gather.
A shipment into Portland feedlots later this week has just scrapped together the 20,000 head it required.
SAMEX livestock coordinator Peter Hooper said the live trade is slowly grinding towards a halt.
He said with the wool job picking up, the feed position is very good. Producers are generally are not that pressured to sell surplus stock, especially following better than expected results this year from lamb and to a lesser extent cropping in some areas of the State.
"People at this point appear happy to hold stock and shear later for a sale in the spring," he said.
Mr Hooper says in the case of breeding ewes, this looks promising for down the track that a few more Merino rams could used on the back of the stronger wool prices to build flock numbers causing short-term pain for exporters.
With ships to Persian Gulf ports cycling every three to four weeks, Mr Hooper said it is particularly hard work finding the numbers required with the live trade, currently shipping only doing about a third of the numbers it was three years ago.
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