Chris Howie: Analysing the price reset

Chris Howie , 02/02/2023

Reset of price – In short we have seen a significant price reset on mutton, lamb, cattle and goat. Was this reset unexpected, probably not, but continued rain drew many to the conclusion prices might stay up for another season.

The issue with the speed of the reset is many that would normally be buying stopped because of a falling market, grain harvest was good and contracts being delivered into were still at the old price. Those that were prepared to buy on a falling market have continued to average down instead of jumping in when the prices bottom and start to move up again.

The lack of store orders for lambs and feedlot orders for feeder cattle saw every sale since mid December become very reliant on local support. In turn this saw quite a wide variation of prices – all species. What did stand out was quality sells, weight for age was a winner this year and weaning calves paid off.

It is in the nature of producers to say when prices are high “They are here to stay”. We have seen it across wool, wine, beef, lamb, and grain in the last 5 years. All looking backwards at what they could have done by taking a forward contract and what it would be worth. As a counter balance it is the nature of feedlots, live export and processors to talk the market down for as long as possible. That’s not a bad thing it’s just business.

The positive was the reset was fast and clinical allowing buyers to gain confidence to step back into the market quite quickly although this has still taken nearly 6 weeks. Those that have acted early purchased plenty of weight at the right money with many  operating on a dollar limit when buying.

Contracts – the reset saw a good number of everyone caught without a signed contract. Mobile phones have made “booking them in” easy and then moving on to the next job. Not only does a signed contract cover arses on price and numbers it also lets administration staff process with the details instead of a sale yard guess. With scanners on your phone now it is very easy to send a copy to buyer and / or vendor. *Make sure you send the T’s & C’s as well.

Flood issues. We have seen a significant impact on livestock drinking stagnant water since early December. I wont go into the science but many lambs once sick from drinking “black water” do not recover. Cattle are not immune from this either especially PTIC. Managing stock water is a difficult task but the time invested will save you considerable heartache. None of us like drinking stale beer or hot wine – sheep and cattle are the same with water.

Rain – NSW remained dry for over 6 weeks which saw demand and prices suffer. Although good rain has fallen between Wodonga and Wagga reporting 100+ mm. Further north 15 – 20mm over a couple of events has given hope there is more to follow.

The Kimberly flood event is still yet to be fully gathered one source said. The calving had been very good with calves carrying plenty of weight. Like the big Queensland flood it will be very hard to estimate numbers lost especially the calves uncounted.

Withholding periods (WHP) and Export Slaughter intervals (ESI). The use of various treatment to control flies, midges and mosquitoes on cattle and sheep pre-Xmas was an absolute requirement in many areas. Many of you may not have had the need to use these treatments in the past and if so it is important you understand the WHP & ESI time frames when selling as getting it wrong can be very costly. Make sure you check before consignment to processors or saleyards.

Cattle – Steers wore the brunt of the correction with cows not far behind. At the end of the January weaner sales most steer were ranging between $4 – $5.20 with the odd a little better. The sales softened as they progressed. Weight was the winner with many lighter calves becoming very buyable.

Heifers were a shining light with well bred straight runs drawing solid breeder attention and trading very close to last years values. Cows as was expected came back into the mid $2 range liveweight.

Speaking to several producers; “If we take the “huge price win” of 2022 out, current prices are still very good when compared to 2021 which we all thought was wonderful. Even paying ourselves agistment at $15 a week a calf is still returning close to $1000”

US cow herd and drought impact. The USDA reports the US herd now is heading for historically low beef cow numbers estimated to be 28.86m beef cows in 2023 from a peak number of 35.3m cows in 1995 and 31.6m cows in 2019.

I follow the Oklahoma National Stockyards Company sale reports on Facebook. The winter numbers are slowing dramatically dropping from 10,000 a week to 2750 this week. Storms, cold rain, sleet and road closures have impacted logistics over a considerable area. It seems rain is starting to impact the drought supply with prices beginning to rally and move up with good demand for feeders reported.

All of these moving parts do bode well for Australian supply as US prices lift and their supply starts to fall. If they can get a bit more rain a real supply hole will start to appear in about 130 days as cheaper cattle exit feed lots and buy prices go up. Exactly what we saw at the tail of our last drought.

On our end we need to make sure processors can obtain enough employees to process the Australian turnoff.

Sheep – Old ewes (mutton) took a pounding in December with most trading at $60 – $70 irrespective of weight and wool length. We are just starting to see some small gains but the trading opportunity still presents for a winter supply spin. The larger lines of well-bred ewes 3 – 5 year olds to join ranging between $100 – $180 and young ewes closer to $200 than $300.

With pastoral shearing starting now some significant lines of ewes and wethers will start to be offered for sale.

Shedding sheep prices have softened a little but are still providing great returns for breeders who have put the effort into making them as clean as possible. Following the past year many very traditional wool enterprises are starting to look hard at this option.

Lambs are 2 stories with best heavies pushing $8 on lack of supply but once under 24 kg this price falls away quickly. 2nd cross stores are very buyable between $110 – $130. Second grade woolly lambs are becoming difficult to sell. Again merino lambs offer value at $50 – $80. Merino wether lambs are the most undervalued money spinner available at this point of time and well worth considering over the next 2 months.


Around the traps

Cade Ebdon, AWN Tasmania said the dry January was much needed after a long, wet and cold spell. Plenty of feed although much is tall and rank now. Lambs have struggled to gain weight with improved  interest in the past 7 days for lambs over 24kg dressed. Light lambs and mutton are still trading at reduced rates. AWN will start with the first weaner sale at Powranna on the 23rd Of February offering just under 2000 cattle.

Geoff Shipp, Elders Muchea said WA has been very quiet on livestock. A large grain harvest, limited live export – sheep and cattle have taken much of the bite out of buyers. Weather has been very liveable in the west and the weaner sales performed at levels not much different to the Eastern states. Quality cattle are becoming short on supply with competition on mutton and secondary lambs the same as everywhere else. Muchea will run a weaner sale on the 15th February with around 2000 head on offer.

Andrew Peadon from Barlow Peadon Schute Bell at Dubbo let me know they have had storms up to 20mm following last week has freshen the country with a green paint showing. Dubbo yarding 14 / 15,000 lambs and 6/7000 mutton saw heavy lambs a little easier, trade fully firm and mutton rise $5 – $7. Cattle yardings have only been 1500 but with kids back at school a lift in numbers is expected. 1st cross ewes have been difficult to sell with most of the repeat buyers impacted by last year’s floods.

HF Richardson principal Will Richardson, Geelong and Ballarat said the majority of the heavy calves are gone from the south now with a few spring calvers being weaned. Vealers have started to go off with some areas drying out quickly after an extended wet. Feeder back grounders and bullock fatteners took advantage of the buy price. Some cattle from last year will need to be targeted into the winter market. Will and I agree we may have hit the price bottom now on the restockers.

Southern bull sales are ready to roll. It will be interesting to see how they fair but I think most producers have seen the benefit of investing in herds and the values will hold onto last years rates. Considering estimates are the Australian herd has grown 4.5% on last year and we are now moving into a growth stage more bulls will be required.

Wool – Has shown some solid rises since the start of January with the indicator at 1333 cents. In the mid 1990’s and again in the early 2000’s we saw a large exit from wool production due to price. Now we are looking at another exit due to lack of shearers, work load and the continued rise of shedding breeds. What I can say is that each time we saw a farm exit from its merino flock the next year the overdraft blew up because of no wool clip to pay for spray or fertiliser. Merinos still offer a great return to those prepared to put the time in.

On the 19th of February, Simone Dand at Wodonga TAFE has another group starting their Agency and Supply chain training. A great endorsement from the agency community with RMA Network (Rural Marketing Agents) co funding any member participants in this training. In addition to support from Auction Plus, StockCo and numerous industry specialists the upskill opportunity is being noticed across all states. There are still 3 spots available with a cap of 15.

Young staff – yearly reminder. They are keen and fresh but not use to the long hours. Most aren’t fully weaned. Remember their emotional tank will run dry at about 5 – 6 weeks. Don’t blow up but support them and in most instances, you will be well rewarded.


  • Mutton – put out for winter
  • Merino lambs – value for money
  • Cows and calves – freshen and split
  • Heifers to join
  • Trading opportunity is here
  • Grain feeding some lambs
  • Do the sums on custom feeding some of you home bred cattle.
  • Training with Simone at Wodonga TAFE
  • Get your livestock finance in place now
  • Get contracts completed and signed




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  1. Grant Piper, 03/02/2023

    The elephant in the room is prices only fell after the COP27 conference – the demonisation of farming and meat seems locked in to our future, unless we fight back effectively and shut the lunatics down.

    • Chris Howie, 06/02/2023

      Thanks Grant. I suggest this time the reset and COP27 alignment is a pure coincidence. Up until Nov / Dec every time prices have started to ease through supply, FMD scare or COVID a weather event has disrupted stock available. Both quality and numbers. Pretty much 3 years of good feed and poor roads providing flexibility on whether to sell or hold. Lambs especially are a perishable commodity and the closer we get to teeth cutting & cropping programs the more a producer becomes a price taker bringing extra units to market. All the best Chris

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