Shedding breeds providing opportunities in 2020

By Teeah Bungey, AuctionsPlus Market Insights

2020 continues to be the year for price records, as the flock rebuild takes place across the Eastern States of Australia. The demand for breeding ewes has significantly outweighed available supplies, consequently setting multiple price records. Scanned in lamb (SIL) first cross ewes set a record back in July, selling for $476/head, while more recently, Australian Whites with lambs at foot (LAF) sold for $493/head. Complementing the record ewe prices, shedding breed rams sold to exceptionally high prices and strong clearance rates throughout spring ram sales across the country.

The increased popularity in shedding sheep mainly comes back to their adaptability and aptitude in tough, drought prone country. The lack of wool on these meat sheep also helps lower the cost of production, as they don’t require shearing or crutching - a bonus given the current volatile wool market. While shedding breeds were traditionally found in areas like the Central West and Western regions of New South Wales, they have more recently started expanding into all parts of the country.

The AuctionsPlus Market Insights (AMI) team has investigated data from 2016 to present, distinguishing selling trends and prices for shedding breed sheep – helping to identify the impact the 2020 season has had on the breed.

As shown below (figure 1), online listings for shedding breeds, specifically focusing on joined articles, increased significantly in 2020, with 51,105 head listed, accounting for 17% of all terminal breeds offered and up 5% on 2019. Darren Old, of B R & C Agents, attributes the increased listings for the breed to 2020’s favorable seasonal conditions, combined with producers looking to cash in on demand and the current market strength. “Clients who would have normally sent their meat sheep to slaughter have been taking advantage of this demand, classing and offering their 2nd drafts for sale…while those with extra feed have been able to hang on to lambs for a little longer and market their sheep properly, with many looking to the box to do so, something previous seasons haven’t allowed.”

Clearance rates for shedding breed articles online has reached its highest average since 2016, sitting at 86%, up from 63% in 2019 - indicating the increased demand for the offering and a direct result of favorable seasonal conditions and producers looking to restock. Ian Featherstone, Elders Broken Hill, has found himself looking to shedding breed articles for his clients, particularly those who are looking to re-stock. “There is a bit of a mix behind purchasing decisions; traditional Merino breeders are starting to look into diversifying, as a result of the wool market, while others who were forced to downsize, or completely destock over the past four years have found themselves looking into alternative breeds”.

Ian commented “we initially looked to SIL or station mated articles so clients can get a quick return on investment, once the first drop of lambs are out of the way there is the flexibility to join to a ram of choice.”

Like any commodity, increased demand brings increased prices. Figure 2 below shows the large jump in average prices achieved for shedding breed ewes in 2020, with all categories recording an average price increase of over $100/head. Joined ewes have jumped $127/head, to average $296/head, while ewes with LAF increased $133/head, averaging $340/head.

2020 has seen the Central West and western regions of NSW dominate online listings, with the two regions accounting for 55,172 head of the total online offerings. While Central West NSW has also dominated online purchases, there has been a significant increase in shedding breed purchases from Southern Queensland, at 27,700 head so far for 2020 – a jump of 15,270 head on last year’s total. Darren Old believes these increased purchases are a result of the “Queensland exclusion fences [seeing] producers looking to Dorper’s to start their livestock restocking process”

Looking ahead, the very tight supplies and favorable seasonal conditions across the eastern states indicate demand and the subsequent strong prices for the shedding breed will remain well into 2021. Ian agrees, commenting “the numbers around don’t outweigh the demand that’s there, some clients are even talking about getting back into Damara’s, the breed that everyone has more recently moved away from, but if they are an available option to help re-stocking, then we will look into it”.