Prices at the Naracoorte blue ribbon first-cross ewe and ewe lamb sales are likely to drop back to levels not seen for close to a decade - the last time lambs were worth less than $5 a kilogram carcase weight.
But agents say there are likely to be opportunities to get into young ewes at very reasonable prices.
The Naracoorte Combined agents have advertised 16,000, 1.5-year-old ewes to be on offer at the Naracoorte Regional Livestock Exchange on Thursday and 33,000 ewe lambs for the following Thursday (November 16).
Last year the 1.5-year-olds topped at $426 and averaged $350, while the best of the ewe lambs made $358.
Several interstate sales have given some price indication or 2023's levels with Corowa, NSW, hitting a high of $248 and at Wycheproof, Vic, ewes sold from $160 to $204.
The blue ribbon South East sale usually eclipses these prices and PPHS Naracoorte director Richard Harvie is hopeful the best of the 1.5-year-olds may reach $230-$260 and selected pens of ewe lambs could top $200.
"Once we get into the middle and lighter run ewes, it could be $100 to $160 and the ewe lamb job - I don't know what to think - secondary types could be barely stubble finisher price of $40 to $70," he said.
"We have blokes selling their ewe lambs for less than their wether lambs."
Mr Harvie said the changeover price to move from old to young ewes was the best it had been in five or six years, even with mutton in the doldrums.
"Even with $30 for an old ewe and $110 for a good prime lamb, that gives you $140 to get into a young ewe, which might cost $150 to $200," he said.
"We also have blokes getting $170 for their top lambs so it is not costing much to go from an eight or nine-year-old into a 1.5-year-old."
Elders Naracoorte livestock manager Josh Reeves says there will be a premium for anything of a joinable weight but there will be a lot of lighter ewe lambs, which is a reflection of the season.
"It is the right time to get in, it is a good time to be putting ewes into the flock with the changeover nowhere near as much as it has been," he said.
"Joinable ewe lambs will probably make $100 to $140 and grow out types $50 to $80."
He says it was a "case by case basis" on whether buyers were holding back or seeing a chance to "tuck a few more away".
Although traders would take a hit, he said there would likely be some great opportunities to make a good margin buying ewe lambs to bring back as 1.5-year-olds.
"The same buyers are at the sale year in and year out so those breeders who have been doing for years will still have a following but it is the people who have swung into the job because things have been so good that might get hurt a bit," he said.
On Thursday morning at Edenhope, Vic, 6800, 1.5-year-olds and 4500 ewe lambs will be offered by Australian Wool Network.
Branch manager David Hanel says breeders still need replacements but the prices paid will depend on how much buyers value having "good breeders in the paddock for next year".
"At Corowa the best runs were $200-$240, whether we get to those levels I don't know," he said.
"The lamb market is holding OK if they are good lambs and while the mutton job is in a depressed state it often has a way of correcting itself."
Mr Hanel is expecting plenty of weight in lambs, going by second-cross lambs being turned off by producers in the region.
"They are the heaviest we have seen for this time of year, we had a great start. The end has not been so kind but there are still plenty of them making 48 to 52kg," he said.
LONG-TIME VENDORS PLAN TO SET RESERVES
Binnum first cross ewe lamb producer Jeremy Boddington is expecting prices will be well back but says they will "ride it out", sticking to what they know, as well as relying on their hay contracting business.
"Last year we took a big hit with our ewe lambs back $80 to $90 on the previous year, although our wether lambs were on par ,and with interest rates rising and lamb prices falling, it is not looking that exciting," he said.
"Luckily we will have a bigger baling run at least in the north (Vic Mallee) and on the positive side we lamb early so we were able to get cast-for-age ewes out before the price drop and bought in 5.5-year-olds for less money.
"There would be others who probably only got $25-$40 for mutton and spent more than that to get back in."
Mr Boddington and his wife Renea have been vendors at the Naracoorte feature sale for the past 12 years and have largely enjoyed strong returns.
"There is is a bit more work involved in specialising in breeding animals rather than meat, like shearing the early drop ewe lambs twice and the later ones once but we generally get rewarded for it and there is also money in Merino wool - as an enterprise it offers the most dollars per head," he said.
He says their 1300 Border Leicester-Merino ewe lambs, which are bred from Paxton and Maroona Station Border Leicesters and out of Mallee Merinos, largely Gum Hill and Moorundie Park-blood, will be the best draft they have ever offered.
"We have put our best foot forward presenting them well because we know the better lambs always sell. We have sacrificed a paddock of hay and a lucerne paddock to give them," he said.
Mr Boddington says they wanted to ensure their repeat clients, who have supported them well throughout the years, could buy their lambs.
They will have a price reserve though, especially on lighter lambs at the sale, and bring home any that may not meet the figure.
"If the hook job picks up in January, a $70 lamb could be worth quite a bit more holding them," he said.