Livestock price volatility has buyers, sellers cautious ahead of Christmas

Cattle prices are falling with the Eastern Young Cattle Indicator ending the week at 926 cents per kilogram, down 115 cents compared to last month.

The volatile market was reflected at the Bega Store Sale on Thursday with heavy cattle on the slide.

However, young cattle were in demand.

Bega Valley beef producer Mark Swan said he had noticed a sharp correction in the market.

“In the top end for fat cattle it’s back $700 to $800 a beast but the smaller cattle are still the same price,” he said.

A cow in a yard of cattle.
The Eastern Young Cattle Indicator has continued to slide from record highs.(ABC RN: Jeremy Story Carter)

Nutrien SGL Leongatha livestock agent Stuart Jenkins said the downturn was partly due to weaker demand from feedlotters and a Christmas rush of cattle onto the market.

“Everyone wants their cattle gone by Christmas,” he said.

“We’ve all been wet and everyone’s woken up and there’s only four weeks to Christmas.”

In Victoria some farmers made the unusual call to pass in their cattle as prices dropped across all markets.

National Livestock Reporting Service market reporter Nicole Varley said the best heavy steers sold for 380 cents per kilogram this week, well down on the 450c/kg they made a month ago.

“There’s not a huge number of cattle being passed in,” she said.

“But some farmers have bought cattle at very healthy prices early on, and with a price correction of that margin, it’s hitting home for some people.”

Softening market

AuctionsPlus chief economist Tim McRae said there was a wariness among buyers in a falling market.

“All good analysis is pointing to this cattle market going to soften,” he said.

“So if you are looking to buy cattle, you might be looking at the market and waiting to see what happens next week.

“People are more willing to be patient if there is a potential for it to fall further.”

With plenty of feed in key grazing areas, he said there was no pressure on farmers to sell.

“So it’s more of an income and cash flow situation,” he said.

Store lamb price pinch

A surge in supply and a lull in demand is taking a toll on the store lamb market.

The price pinch was felt at Wagga Wagga saleyards yesterday when more than 32,000 lambs were penned.

Nutrien Wagga Wagga livestock manager and auctioneer Peter Cabot said the price of store lambs had fallen for successive weeks.

Mr. Cabot said a huge influx of store lambs, which were generally purchased by farmers to finish and market later, were coming through the yards.

He said prices had softened by $5 to $15 a head.

A shorn sheep standing in a drafting race at the saleyards.
Sheep and lambs sold to a softer market at Wagga Wagga this week. (ABC News: Cara Jeffery)

“So it’s another big drop given they were $10 cheaper last week,” he said.

“All of a sudden there’s a lot of store lambs on the market as there is a lot of lucerne country that’s been under water.

“And demand is just not there at this stage and realistically store lambs are probably $50 to $60 a head cheaper than they were at this time last year.”

Mr. Cabot said the softer store market opened up a good opportunity for producers to take on store lambs to finish.

He said heavy lambs packing weight and finish, and quality trade lambs were still in demand and commanding good money.

With only three sales until the Christmas break, Mr. Cabot expected numbers would nudge 50,000 head each sale.

“That’s pretty typical for the Riverina at this time of year and isn’t being dictated by the floods,” he said.

“We usually draw the fresher, quality lambs from the eastern Riverina now.”

Mr. Cabot said while the weight in the heavy crossbred sheep was “getting them through”, the mutton market was $50 to $70 a head lower than this time last year.

“The sheep are flat out making $4 a kilogram, whereas last year, they were making $6 or $7 a kilogram — it’s a long way back from the mutton market.”

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