SHEEP markets found a new price level last week, due in part to a softening of the Australian dollar.
While global demand for mutton has improved noticeably through the past year, interest from China is increasing at a rapid rate.
According to Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), sheepmeat shipments reached new heights, surging a staggering 202 per cent year-on-year to 9269 tonnes shipped weight.
What is so interesting is China was the largest single export destination for Australian lamb and mutton during May.
There have also been changes in the spread of sheepmeat cuts to China during the past month.
Breast and flap had been the cuts of choice, but demand for carcase exports have now exceeded the volume of breast and flap orders.
While many producers and processors are sceptical of the ability of the Australian live sheep trade to maintain a regular supply to the Middle East, China may well fill the void.
For many countries it is all about food security, with countries around the world becoming more aware of food supplies regardless of the costs involved.
Market signals out of NSW at the close of trading last week suggested further price spikes across sheep categories could roll into Victorian saleyards as markets reopen after the Queen's Birthday long weekend.
Sheep sold to red hot competition at Wagga on Thursday, as good quality drafts of heavy Merino wethers spurred several export buyers into action.
Wethers weighing about 28kg in full wool sold to a top price of $117 or the equivalent of 309 cents a kilogram carcase weight.
The other star performers of the day were crossbred ewes, selling anywhere from $6-$17 dearer, av 301c/kg cwt.
Prices at the NSW centres of Wagga Wagga and Griffith on Thursday and Friday varied according to quality and weight with numbers bouncing at both markets.
Prices stayed high at Wagga and were bolstered by strong buying support from JBS Swift across most trade and heavy weight categories.
One agent suggested the buying spree from JBS Swift was due to the public holiday Monday, which forced major processors to have adequate numbers on hand for Tuesday's kill.
Trade lambs were unchanged to $2 dearer at Wagga, while the following day at Griffith, values lifted $6-$12 per head.
Extra heavy lambs in both markets sold $9-$14 dearer, reaching a top of $170 at Griffith, NSW.
Merino lambs were keenly contested and enjoyed rises of $8-$11, with premium prices paid for grain-fed drafts.
Restocking lambs were in limited supply and prices fluctuated, with some buyers seeking shorn lambs they can finish in the shortest amount of time with teeth becoming an issue.
Numbers rose marginally at Ballarat on Tuesday and demand was steady, with heavier three and four score trade lambs selling equal to $4 cheaper, av 380-480c/kg cwt.
Heavy four scores sold from $112-$150, holding firm to $3 cheaper.
Lambs suitable for lotfeeding and restocking met keen competition, selling to fully firm to slightly dearer.
Well-bred secondary lambs to feed on av $87.
With sheep prices increasing, numbers lifted to 9208 penned. Demand however, although still strong, av $2-$8 lower.
Some consignments of wethers were close to last week's values and the top drafts ranged from $95-$104.