Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Low lamb volume misleading in market lull

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Don’t be fooled by the tumbleweeds blowing through Temuka – there are lambs out there, even if some of them are a storm-tossed three-day ocean voyage away.
Farmers in the Chatham and Pitt islands have been waiting for repairs to the livestock transporter boat Southern Tiare so that lambs can be shipped across from the islands to the saleyards.
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Anyone visiting the Temuka saleyards at the moment will be wondering where all the lambs have gone. 

The month of July 2023 has offered up the lowest numbers of prime and store lambs in AgriHQ’s records, going back to 2010. This may lead people to believe that lamb numbers are running out, or that this year’s overall throughput is well down, but in fact that couldn’t be further from the truth. 

The year to date has seen nearly 144,000 store lambs heading to the Temuka yards, the third highest tally since 2010, with the highest in 2019 when 157,000 were offered. 

There is still one more sale to go this month and so the year-to-date tally won’t come close to that record, but it still holds one of the top spots for throughput. In both 2019 and 2023 there were surges of lambs in May, though 2023’s tally of nearly 52,000 exceeded 2019 by more than 10,000 lambs. 

The May monthly average for store lamb throughput at Temuka is 24,000, so May 2023 more than doubled in volume. May was a popular selling month this year as prices were very attractive, in stark contrast to current markets, and a surge of lambs arrived from Central Otago, keeping stock agents busy on Sunday afternoons as they prepped the lambs for the Monday sales. 

A very mild winter and late grass growth kept plenty of enthusiasm in the market then, and sellers took full advantage of that. 

The tables have turned significantly now, though, and PGG Wrightson regional manager Joe Higgins expects to have a very quiet month ahead. 

“The lamb market has turned dramatically in the last month and looking ahead is unfortunately more negative than positive. Weather conditions have changed significantly, and both buyers and sellers are now trying to digest what the markets are doing. 

“There are still plenty of lambs out there, but sellers are opting to hold off for now while the market is so flat. They will need to make a move at some stage though, before lambs get too heavy or risk cutting their teeth”.

Notably absent for much of the year has been livestock from Chatham and Pitt islands. 

For farmers on the islands it must feel like Groundhog Day as once again they find themselves waiting for the boat to carry stock over to the main islands. The livestock transporter Southern Tiare was taken out of use at the end of February as it sailed away for major repairs and maintenance. 

It was supposed to be back operating in May. 

Delays have lengthened that time, but it is now expected to start its journey from Auckland back to the Chatham Islands any day now. 

Hazlett stock agent Martie Gregory-Hunt said it is not a moment too soon.

“We have had a very wet, very cold winter and we need to get stock off the islands. It is great that there is light at the end of the tunnel now”. 

The boat will focus solely on transporting stock to Timaru and Napier, starting with lambs, of which there are 30,000-40,000 to be sold at the Temuka and Stortford Lodge saleyards. 

Once all the lambs are transported, the focus will shift to cattle. The first of the lambs are expected to arrive onshore from about mid-August, all going according to plan. 

The Southern Tiare carries approximately 2500 lambs per trip and can take up to three days to make the journey, weather dependent. 

It is unlikely that the lambs will meet a favourable market once at the yards, but it will take a lot of pressure off farmers on the isolated islands, who rely solely on this mode of transport to get stock to sale.

This article was written by AgriHQ analyst Suz Bremner. Suz leads the AgriHQ LivestockEye team, including data collectors who are tasked with being on the ground at sale yards throughout the country. Subscribe to AgriHQ reports here.

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