As the national flock looks towards a rebuild amid a booming NSW season, mutton supply in NSW has slowed into saleyards leaving processors and restockers looking to Victoria for supplies.
Meat and Livestock Australia market information reported last week competition from restockers looking for breeding ewes remains robust, driving price increases in the eastern states.
And the current market dynamics complement producer intentions to retain productive breeding stock.
On Tuesday October 20, the Eastern States Mutton Indicator was reported at 639 cents per kilogram carcase weight (cwt), three cents higher week-on-week and 56c above year-ago levels.
And in South Australia, mutton prices lifted nearly 50c for the week, closing at 622c/kg cwt on Friday.
Owner Nutrien Ag Solutions in St Arnaud Victoria, Damian Drum, said as far as mutton goes, predictions are there wont be any increase in numbers until this time next year.
"There is no doubt there is a shortage of mutton," Mr Drum said.
"NSW is hardly selling anything off the back of the bumper season. They are keeping a lot of stock and joining what they can. They're rebuilding flocks.
"Big processors like Fletchers are buying mutton from Victoria because they can't get volume out of NSW."
According to Nutrien Ag Solutions Bendigo livestock manager Nick Byrne, there is a very strong underpin of any sheep that are sound to go back out onto feed.
"There is also a reduction in those slaughter sheep being sold out of the NSW Riverina areas trying to rebuild their flocks," Mr Byrne said.
"It's probably a perfect storm as far as mutton is concerned."
And the demand is only growing, largely thanks to African Swine Fever and a lack of cheap protein in China.
The 'cheap' protein of mutton hasn't been afflicted like lamb, which requires high-end demand to maintain strong export values.
In China, the return and celebration of mutton Hot Pot was delayed in 2020 due to restaurant closures.
However, once the outlets reopened they were one of the few venues crowded with wait times of up to eight hours.
But according to the latest quarterly insights from Mecardo, all signs in the export markets point to mutton being the star performer for the last two years.
Per kilogram export values for mutton have gained 65pc in just two years.
Lamb export values however have only gained 14pc since 2018.
And for the immediate future, all signals point towards mutton prices staying in the favour of the seller with anticipated recovery in overseas demand, robust domestic restocker buying and limited supply availability.