Merino lamb prices across all states are sitting well above their expected normal seasonal levels.
And with wool prices continuing their upward trend, the attractiveness of a robust lamb return topped up with a healthy fleece price is proving an attractive package for re-stockers.
At the close of business on Monday, the eastern states daily indicators saw Merino lamb returning 623 cents per kilogram, a 46c increase on the same time last year.
On AuctionsPlus last week, 10-month-old 39kg Merino ewe lambs topped at $193, while 10-month-old Merino wether lambs, weighing 50kg, sold to a top price of $131.
But in Meat and Livestock Australia’s (MLA) prices and markets statistics report, which is updated every Wednesday, it was South Australia and Western Australia that showed the biggest gains.
In SA Merino lambs weighing between 16 and 22kg returned 648c/kg, an 86c increase on this time last year.
WA lamb markets saw Merinos selling for 667c/kg compared to 509c/kg at the same time in 2018.
So what is causing the increase in the demand?
Supplies of Merino lambs are likely to be getting thin and those looking for restocking opportunities like the look of the wool value.
Livestock agent Alistair Keller, Landmark Burra, SA, believes it has a lot to do with the evolution of the Merino and their place in the market, now and in the future.
He said after working with feedlots and crunching the numbers, Merinos are becoming a very attractive article.
Mr Keller purchases lambs for feedlotters in the York Peninsula from pastoral areas in the north of the state, grazing them mostly on stubble.
“We find if we use crossbreds, we have to shear them a couple of times to get them up, which is costing money, but with a Merino lamb, we are getting a rebate with the wool off the back of them,” Mr Keller said.
He said they haven’t found a big difference in the results between the two.
“With the big SA sheep the way they are now, in reference to the Merino, you might keep them in a feedlot a week or two more than a crossbred, but they are coming up so easy now,” he said.
“More than three quarters of my feedlotters hardly touch a crossbred lamb anymore, they are all Merinos.”
The Merino is evolving, according to Mr Keller, and are quickly becoming a dual purpose sheep that are easy doing.
“You can whip the wool off the back of a Merino and they will come up just as quick as anything, without an abundance of feed,” he said.
“We have done the margins and we would be ahead with Merinos over crossbreds, especially in the last two years.
“We are returning about 30c below what a crossbred lamb would, but in years to come, I think it will all equal out.
“There will be more done on carcase quality, more than what breed they are.”
Stud stock specialist, Brad Wilson of Landmark Dubbo, NSW, said the demand for the Merino lamb is stemming from a combination of the wool game, coupled with the improvement of the growth rates of Merinos over the last 10 years.
“The Merino industry have had to improve their growth rates to compete against the terminal,” Mr Wilson said.
“The little Merino weaner that doesn’t grow is in the past. We have a Merino that is comparable to the terminal, so you add that with the wool market, that combination as a unit is competing very well against just a terminal lamb alone.”
He said producers are shearing their lambs between seven to nine months, cashing in the wool clip and five weeks later, returning anywhere between $140 to $160 for a wether lamb.
Yet Simon Flick, Landmark wool specialist, Boorowa, NSW, believes its not as cut and dry as it sounds with lighter lambs not making any premiums and heavier lambs going to processors or finishers to prepare them for the processors.
“Woolgrowers are cautious about buying wether lambs because season conditions are tight and until it rains it is hard to say if there really is any great interest in buying wether lambs from woolgrowers,” Mr Flick said.
He predicts the money may only be there because of the tight supply.