Sheep farmers in New Zealand are currently enjoying a booming sheep trade.
Insatiable Chinese demand for meat, driven by the occurrence of African swine fever in the Chinese pig herd, is driving global meat prices upwards, with farm-gate sheep prices in New Zealand and Australia running at record levels.
The positivity in the trade was very evident in an on-farm sheep sale on Monday. The sale of 3,000 sheep was held on Eskvale Station, which is located in North Canterbury on the South Island of New Zealand.
The sale was conducted by Peter Walsh and Associates livestock brokers, which covers sales across the South Island and took just 27 minutes to conduct.
Alby Orchard, one of the auctioneers carrying out the sale, said New Zealand farmers are in unprecedented territory in terms of prices paid.
“We have never seen our prime lamb market sitting at $9/kg (€5.23/kg at 1.72 NZD to the euro) carcase weight and mutton prices have peaked at $6.80/kg (€3.95/kg).
“We haven’t seen these values before so it’s a good time for sheep farmers in New Zealand.”
The sale was impressive, with lambs split into 11 sale lots. Lambs were penned in an outdoor collecting and handling yard with an entry of about 170 ewes held in penning associated to the farm’s shearing shed.
Bidding was intense with the sale auctioneer selling from the inside of each pen and flanked by a team of seven to eight spotters who watched out for bids from different angles and shouted when they came in.
Alby said the trade for prime or slaughter-fit lambs was particularly brisk and ran well ahead of the previous 13 on-farm sales held.
The majority of lambs sold from $150 to $200 (€87 to €116) with a top price of $212 (€123) paid.
Lambs were taken fresh off ewes and batched evenly on size, weight and gender. Store lambs sold from $110 (€64) for light tail-end lots to $140 (€81).
The breeds on offer were a mixture of Romdale male and ewe lambs and terminally sired South Down, Suffolk and Dorset crosses.
The Romdale is a composite breed comprising maternal genetics from two New Zealand breeds – Romney and Perendale.
The 170 Romdale ewes were culled mainly on age, with Alby explaining that the majority were purchased for direct slaughter.
Prices ranged from $137 (€79.65) to $211 (€122.60), with the trade stronger to the tune of $50 to $60 (€29 to €35) on the corresponding period in 2018.
In addition to increased demand from China, Alby says the breeding ewe flock has never recovered from severe droughts which hit three to four years ago, with a lower breeding flock limiting output and adding to a situation of demand exceeding supplies.