The mutton market is breaking all the rules and setting a new path by getting dearer this spring, not cheaper.
Price gains of $20 and even $50 for big heavy ewes and wethers were achieved at Wagga Wagga in NSW at the prime sheep market over the last couple of weeks.
It is a highly unusual result for a market pushing into the spring flush of October.
It wasn't a standalone case with much dearer trends appearing in Victoria at Ballarat and Bendigo, and in NSW at Corowa and Dubbo.
By the end of last week, most markets were quoting good lines of Merino and crossbred ewes above 600 cents a kilogram carcase weight.
In dollar per head terms this was putting a lot of the sheep ranging from $190 to $255.
If you break it down even further, sheep processors are paying the equivalent rate of a heavy new season lambs.
Traditionally, mutton prices start to decline from September onwards as the market numbers build experiencing a flush of cull ewes and wethers being sold after shearing and lamb weaning.
Saleyard data for the past five years shows an average price correction of about 30c/kg for mutton between September and October annually.
This highlights just how severe the ravages of drought have been over the last two years.
NSW is leading the charge with Fletcher's International dominating markets in the north.
It reflects supply, with reports sheep numbers in the north having tightened considerably forcing buyers to travel south and up the ante.
Wagga Wagga stock agents said there had been no real big yardings of sheep this spring.
Normally we see 20,000 plus but at present saleyards are lucky to hit 10,000.
It is indictive of what might be to come.
Combine the shortage of sheep in Australia with the burgeoning demand for affordable meat in China and it helps create the perfect storm to carry mutton rates to these exceptional price levels.
While pork supplies are limited overseas, there seems no stopping these amazing rates for our old girls.
The main markets on Monday were Bendigo and Corowa and Dubbo in NSW with mutton rates buoyant at all centres.
Prices generally jumped $12 to $22 with heavy mutton averaging 570-678c/kg cwt.
Lambs sales produced mixed price trends NSW powered ahead $5-$9, while Bendigo market came off the boil $10 to $15.
Trade lambs averaged 783c/kg cwt while heavy lambs made from $186-$248.
- Leann Dax is an NLRS market reporter.
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