Chris Howie: A good time to understand the emotional cycle of livestock prices

Chris Howie , 06/06/2023

Mindset: Ben Crow is Ash Barty’s mindset coach. One piece I really like is “Don’t let your environment determine your attitude, you are 100% in control of your attitude”. The importance of understanding the emotional cycle of livestock prices is never more important than now. Negativity breeds more negativity and taking the time to understand the natural flow of the supply and demand cycle may help some of you in the future with planning, taking opportunities and how you view what is happening.

Auctions Plus: I have noticed agents putting realistic reserves on lots seem to be still selling. However, lots over both species that are reserving at “what I am hoping for” or “what I need to get out of them” are struggling to get a bid. In the current market realistic reserves and phone calls are the tools that will create activity because many buyers on A+ have become screen tired from looking at lots that are overpriced.

Prices:– There is a lot of commentary about prices at present and trying to work out why the market has done what it has done – work force, international markets, Ukraine or foreign exchange. The simple 2-word explanation for sheep, lambs and cattle is supply glut which we haven’t seen for a while.

  • 3 good years with producers holding numbers as well as extras in case of another good year.
  • The wet finish last year interrupting feeding performance and weight gain
  • Price dip causing many to hold on to add more weight and cover the purchase price.
    • This is where we need to become smarter. Many have been caught by the size of the price correction completely removing a weight gain benefit.

It is always darkest before the dawn, and I think June and July will help shake off numbers in the south and the end of August for cattle in the North. When prices are low it is easy to suggest it is where they will stay forever but this is rarely the case.

Well done to Mort & Co for giving us a mid-year Australia day message for beef from our mate Sam Kekovich. Have a quick look at the video below for a laugh.


Have we become our own worst enemy? With sheep trading confidence very low the lamb processors are wearing a flood of supply. However, this run of numbers has a direct impact on price. We must remember processors want quality supply all year round not a million in 3 weeks – especially slippery half-finished stock.

I caught up with Brett McKenna, Midfield Meats, Warrnambool at the Jamestown sheep sale between pens. His father Colin and Chris Thomas from TFI with a cast of other identities helped me as a young agent buying on property and as auctioneer at Gepps Cross and regional store sheep sales. I can guarantee it wasn’t a free ride, but it did help build a resilience and a thick skin for when the job gets tough. Brett and I both agreed the old methods of relationships and forward thinking still work in the livestock game.

Most of the autumn drop lambs are gone now but we are seeing a raft of spring drops with plenty of time till teeth being sold under done. This is perpetuating the flood of lambs at a time we normally don’t see. Speaking to Geoff Rice AWN Langlands Hanlon, Parkes “there are very few lambs out on the river flats around Forbes and Parkes, yet it seems many producers are caught up in the current pricing and dumping lambs. Some lambs are only 3 weeks away with some supplementary feeding that would provide a positive $50 plus return on quality alone. Many merinos are being sold in the wool at a discount. These would make much more money by shearing and turning into hoggets than selling for $80.”

Alex Collins McKean McGregor Bendigo said last week’s sale reflected much the same. Well finished heavy lambs are still selling ok between $180 – $225 but there is a massive discount for the 1000’s of unfinished trade lambs being punched into the market. Many are very well bred, very well presented but have been sold off pasture without being finished. In turn this is impacting hooks pricing and available kill space” Henry Bugge from the same company was watching some merino lambs they purchased for $15 and shore being sold. Result was $85 – $90 and I would consider not a bad outcome in a market that many consider poor.

Little sheep project – I have been banging on about the opportunities for scanned in lamb ewes. With some feed available on my place, I have brought a hat full (91) SIL 3 and 4 years olds merino ewes, Jan shorn, due to start lambing to White Suffolks 23rd of June. I have decided to be proactive and practice what I preach by following the progress each month in this article and listen to my Livestock advisor. (I won’t name him at this time in case I stuff something up).

In an exercise like this I figure it is easy to change the numbers at the end but it is bloody hard to do that if I tell you as we go along.

So here is the starting point. 91 SIL ewes with scanning of 66% multiples and 34% singles @ $150 with a body condition score of 3 and an average A+ weight of 67.8kg. Transport has cost me $9, Ewe guard vaccination $2 per head with a lambing dry lick at 12% magnesium put out (add the cost later). Good feed consisting of natives, phalaris, clovers and a 40 year old Winchester 222 for foxes. Let’s see what happens from here.


We seem to be in a period of mixed messaging with cattle pricing at present. Store sales seem to be quite erratic with prices easing until late May. Yet some sales at the end of May at Gundagai & Barnawartha suggested we are seeing an improvement on prices for better steers and a definite lift on heifers of circ $120. We are also seeing excess inventory numbers of older cows that were held on top of normal numbers being sold because we haven’t had another boomer start like the last 3 years. Feed has become tight in some larger cattle breeding and trading areas as well as the normal Queensland sale period.

Slaughter rates are under supply pressure and it is very easy to become caught up in the negativity around price and what the job will do. Much the same as lambs, I think slaughter prices will show some positive movement in the south but as I have said before not until July. Looking at all the drivers, over supply is pretty much the fly in the soup. US job is on fire and the bulk release of Brazilian meat which has softened 90cl pricing should work out over the next 3 weeks as the 26% tariff is activated. This is not new in the US and we probably need to factor this approach by Brazil into price impact at the start of each quota period. The Australian dollar exchange rate has also softened considerably which in turn makes Australia beef more attractive internationally.

I attended the Naracoorte store sale and caught up with Brooke Green, Thomas, DeGaris, Clarkson, Penola. She said larger, quality lines of 350 – 425kg steers remained relatively firm on last sale with good competition from feedlotters TFI, Princess Royal, Teys, Hopkins River & Mildura.  Lighter steers and heifers saw solid competition from local graziers and back grounders with 280 – 350 kg steers ranging from $3.50 – $4.40 and Heifers $3.25 – $3.60. As with all areas the unfinished heavy cattle and lighter secondary lines are taking a hit on price with many trading between $2.60 – $3.20 per kg.

Nick Harton, Livestock sales manager with Jim Hindmarsh and Co, Braidwood said the sale at Yass last week was back on the previous fortnight. “Better pens of Angus steers would not have been that far behind but the bits and pieces were definitely cheaper”

Heading North for a change I called Brent Williams, Branch Manager for Nutrien in Charter Towers. The first time I met Brent was a trainee interview where he was working at Charleton feedlot, Vic, as a stockman. Just shows how diverse our industry is when it comes to career paths.

Brent reported the prolonged wet season has seen reduced numbers due to graziers holding cattle to maximise weight gains as well as an easing market over the last few weeks. An export order for Vietnam is open with bullock pricing at $2.75 – $2.77 and Bulls $2.75. Some isolated Indonesian orders for 280 – 380kg steers $3.00 and heifers $2.60 – $2.70.

Mick Newman, Elders Alice Springs called about the upcoming Alice Springs show cattle sale. It is very easy in the current market to ignore this sale but those that make the effort will probably buy well bred cattle worth the money. If you can’t go it is very simple to put an order in place, especially with face time or video to see the cattle in the pens.

Following on with the same shirt colour, Cameron Wilson, Elders Livestock Brisbane says hay and straw is becoming very difficult to find in Southern Queensland and North West NSW for feed lots and fodder. If any have hay for sale make it known with a feed test and weight to get the best result for all parties.

Across to the Kimberly I spoke to Phil Petrecovich, AWN WA Livestock Manager and Gerald Wetherall, GM Livestock for Westcoast Wool and Livestock. Both indicated the opening of roads in the Kimberly and the excellent feed will see well-conditioned cattle coming out in the near future. This in turn will provide WA and Eastern processors with slaughter opportunity without need to background in the south.

Simone Dand, Agency and supply chain training coordinator at Wodonga TAFE advised me the next intake is now open with the workshop commencing August the 6th. Simone mentioned the renewed focus by the federal government on skills-based training has been very positive and looks as though this will directly benefit the end result for participants and employers. New agents from all states and companies attend this training and the offer is also open to processors and financiers to send staff along to learn the operational business aspects of the livestock industry. Included in the Certificate 4 or workshop only course is the opportunity to gain Auctions Plus accreditation as part of the fee. An added bonus is the decision by Independent agency marketing company rma network to pay for 50% of the fee for any member participants on completion. Recent enquiry from several large end user companies about opportunity to meet the group when together has shown this training is being recognised across the supply chain. Further information call Simone on 0455 240 307.

Stud safeguard. I grabbed this from 12 months ago and wondered if anyone did anything? The threat has not diminished but it has dropped out of the media.

For the stud community I strongly suggested collecting eggs, embryos and semen from your operation and putting into storage. To have your life’s work disappear because of an any form of outbreak is too hard to comprehend for many. It is important to know if your enterprise is captured within a containment circle there is no room for negotiation about the breeding value as industry will follow the cull protocols to eliminate the outbreak risk.

EYCI – I did have a little chuckle. It seems when the EYCI is going down there doesn’t seem to be the same amount of importance placed on it as when it is going up. Like any indicator it is a tool to create an opinion on what you might do. Remember all the various graphs are retrospective and only telling you what happened yesterday unless put in context.

Best wool / Best lamb conference at Bendigo on the 20th June. This event has been running for 25 years and I have been asked to speak about Agents of the future – Relationships that create value. But there are some very good speakers attending as well.

StockCo graphs will be back next month – I blew my spread sheet up by putting kerosine in my new computer.

Average Steer and Heifer price this month, all breeds, all states:   Steers $1271 @ 347kg Heifers $1147 306kg

Average Background Ewe and Lamb, All breeds, all states Ewes $142 58kg Lambs $108 29kg


  • Continue to train – when the job is tough it is more important than ever.
  • Merino lambs – so much opportunity
  • Heifers – improve by lotfeeding, joined or hooked – not a lot of money
  • Look after your ewes and cows, get some advice on what to do – every lamb or calf that survives is extra in the kitty. Sometime spending a little makes a lot.
  • Look at the opportunity in your lambs. Spend $30 on supplementary feeding to finish them off and create a quality article for July sale.






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  1. Michael Vail, 19/06/2023

    Excellent picture! Though there’s no mention I saw on labour-shortages on the killing and processing floors, nor the extra cattle that will come into the job in the new financial year as it gets drier, nor the impending drought effects of future years … this is a long game. Prices may have further to fall, and stay down for longer than might be planned-for … IMO

  2. Roger McFarlane, 06/06/2023

    The major problem we have is that we are price takers not price makers … there is next to zero competition for our cattle out there …. For 3 years during the drought , processors were making up to $1,000.00 per cow …. Then for a couple of years the processors lost up to $500.00 a cow …. Dry times , high cattle numbers no competition for our cattle makes the perfect storm for really low prices for our livestock…. while processors are making a fortune … something or somebody needs to make changes for us to survive

    • Paul Franks, 07/06/2023

      When you read this article from last year
      Particularly the “Conversations held earlier today suggest slaughter cows in Queensland this week may be a $180/head net loss proposition”

      Looking at a current grid prices are down $2/kg on when that article was written. Was around 650c/kg back then now around 450c/kg On a 280kg cow that is down $560/hd. If they were making a $180 loss before, now are they making a $380 profit?

      I made the comment on last weeks weekly processor price offers about the lack of competition, and the editor commented that as the processors are still getting lots of cattle, producers must be happy at the current prices. I thought to myself, given processors at least in Queensland seem reluctant for your generic grass fed types to quote any more then a week or two out, and you have to book cattle in weeks in advance, real competition would be every producer booking their cattle in at multiple processors, then when getting a quote cancelling all the low rate bookings. I could not imagine producers that did that lasting too long.

      Thanks for your comment, Paul. Worth remembering, there’s an awful lot of factors that go into the mix that represents profitability on a beast for processors. Livestock price is just one of them. Currency cross rates can be a big factor in the value of beef exports, as well as export meat prices, and the level of supply from international export competitors like the US and Brazil.

      Your suggestion about booking the same cattle at multiple processors could also apply in reverse. But no producer would be happy if they booked cattle at a price for a kill with a processor in a certain week, only for it to be cancelled. Editor.

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