Chris Howie: Time to stop letting our environment impact our attitudes

Chris Howie , 11/10/2023

The need for positivity. In times past, before the drama driven mass media, we had farming communities remaining positive about what the season would bring. With continual reference to a previous bumper year for crops, steer weights, lambing or wool prices being the norm. However, this eternal optimism, which is a must for the families on the land, seems to have been reversed by the continual feed of “what is about to happen”. The educated metropolitan based noise applies no context and is wearing us all down with repetition on the TV, Radio, Social media and sadly the ABC. I am now seeing an absolute aversion to having a go because of this never-ending sensationalism around natural events that have always happened – weather, fire, rain, frost etc etc.

Chris Howie

Chris Howie

So many I have spoken to over the past month can never remember a time when confidence was so low amongst the livestock community. Opportunities that previously would have been taken without a second thought are now being declined because of the “what if” scenario. It seems planting a crop each year has more certainty, yet it is totally reliant on rain and a spreadsheet without any guarantees. Livestock we can manage to the season because the inputs directly correlate to weight gain – every time.

I think it is so important for us to collectively rebuild confidence and stop letting our environment impact our attitudes. This was the foundation for Ash Barty playing tennis and there is no reason it doesn’t work for all of us.

Look ahead and make positive decisions, even if it’s only a small truck load to run along the tree lines. None of us can fix dry times but the traders out there can really help the overall livestock community at these prices. Financing a $40 lamb or a $350 heifer still leaves plenty of margin. It’s time to think about buying to sell after Christmas and have a go.


The run of cow and calf units out of NSW has really ramped up with many of the older cows being split and sold. Numerous 2 – 4th calf units are becoming available at what I consider very attractive buying. In turn this provides opportunity on the older cows in your herd to be sold off and the potential to bring a younger cow with calf at foot back in at very little change over cost. Speaking to Scott Bremner at McCulloch Agencies Tamworth he said they had put a small order out for 60 cows and calves and were quoted nearly 1500. Many of these are high quality Hereford, Angus and Shorthorn cows not put together mobs.

Mitch Dovan Donovan Agencies at Grafton said light cattle, especially heifers are starting to trade under a dollar per kilo with opportunity to secure loads at great rates. Scott Hamilton, HMA at Narrabri said many light steers and heifers at Gunnedah are now $1.30 – $1.60 providing ability to put plenty on a truck and keep the freight down.

On the other side of the country in WA Michael Forward, Livestock manager for Elders Bunbury said well-bred feeder steers are making $3.20 – $3.40. After driving through Michael’s patch, I can see why. The Bunbury / Harvey area is having an exceptional spring and is as green as Ireland.

Andrew Hosken, Hosken Livestock and Consultancy Tamworth has enquiry for cattle agistment in the SE of SA or Western Districts for those properties that have feed available. He is open to contact from agents or farmers with a spread of mob sizes and cattle types that he can place.


Technology. Speaking to Antony Glynn, Glynn Agriculture at Moree (also chairman of the RMA Network) the other day to find him in a helicopter mustering cattle with his agent Charlie Upton as co pilot. Charlie has nearly completed his chopper license also which is a skill I never thought of when shearing sheep in the 80’s – unless Rambo was in it.

How times have changed – some of my old bosses made sure the company car was in the garage over the weekend. My next call to Antony and he was fixing a drone that is used to muster. The days of riding a horse up a steep gully may seem romantic but pushing cattle or sheep out with a drone seems a lot easier, cost effective and safer. It was only 2003 that B&W Moree sold the first drones as bug sweepers on cotton. From memory they were $2300 and seen as a rich farmers toy. Now they are an established part of business with measurable cost savings created.


The run of lamb and ewe sales are upon us and numbers will flow as they do every year until about mid-December when they will ease off. What I have noted is the limited number of lambs being put out aligned to supply in January and February. With the NSW season impacting the quality of the spring lambs that will be available we may see a reliance on autumn lambs. Elevated grain prices are also stopping many from lot feeding lambs over the next 3 to 4 months because of the limited visibility of a forward price. If ever there was a time to take a positive approach to setting up supply around a target market now looks like it. Current price aligned to weight gain alone allows a margin to be created on carcass without wool or processor pricing improving.

Sales results have ebbed and flowed as they do most years. The mallee sales held their own with Joe Scammell from Spence Dix & Co providing a quick report on the best merino ewes making just over $200 and most between $120 – $170. Ron Rutledge Nutrien Vic/Riv said Hay, NSW yarded 40,000 and was well supported by repeated buyers at rates similar to the Mallee. As with every sale season a couple of sales did not fare so well with rates being $30 – $50 less and creating some great buying opportunities for those prepared to have a go.

I attended the Kondinin / Corrigin circuit ewe sale in WA last week ran by West Coast Livestock agents Barry and Lincon Gangell. Young ewes ranged from $60 – $113 with the 2.5 to 4.5 year olds making $50 – $75. Quality and presentation were outstanding and I can see why so many from the East have purchased these sheep over the years. WA still has plenty of quality ewes and lambs available although their mutton price was about 20 cents per kg better than the east. As a side note make sure you call into the Corrigin Hotel for a beer – it’s a cracker.

Merino wether lambs are still very buyable and present a great margin opportunity. DMD Livestock and Property and Westech Ag Kyle Livestock will present 9000 ewes and lambs next Friday at the Nhill and Kaniva districts sale which will provide an excellent gauge for the Mallee / Wimmera croppers and graziers. With 4500 quality ewes and 4500 merino wether lambs central to all buyers it is a real opportunity to buy some great performance merinos.

Early November the annual run of 1st cross sales ewe sales begins and considering the season I expect some very high-quality ewes being offered. With the terminal ram sales in full swing the potential to put some high-performance ewes and rams together at the right money is ideal.


Time for a story. In 1991 when based at Wilmington in SA I met a gentleman, now long gone, whom I would consider one of the best sheep men I have ever met. Unassuming, pragmatic and the breeder of very large, high-quality East Bungaree sheep well sought by many. At that time Stock agents were tasked with doing the paperwork for sheep disposal and often the task itself in what I consider the worst moment in Australian livestock history.

On this particular day he asked me to come out to his place to do the paperwork on 600 ewe hoggets, about 75kg with 4 months wool. In his mind the only option was disposal and take the $6 on offer from the government.

I suggested letting them go back into the Flinders range country behind his property. His reply was “I can’t do that, they will die”. In response I said: “Well, they definitely will if you leave them here. Leave the gate open so they can get a drink.” 6 months later we mustered the block and recovered 597 2-year-old ewes with 10 months wool, shore them and sold them at Jamestown for $16.

Why this story today? Because the same thought process is what I am seeing in sheep areas that are not affected by drought and have sufficient feed to carry or trade. It appears no one is prepared to look 4 to 6 months ahead at the other side of this supply glut whether breeders or traders. Has our ability to ride the bump for a few months evaporated or are we using the last 3 grain cheques as an excuse? In WA last week 3 different agents told me of clients who had rang and said “They are in the yards sell them now!” Price was not a consideration or time to market properly, just sell them. The biggest run was 3,000.

All of us need to put some confidence back into the way we think. Margins are available on sheep at present and plenty have feed in areas that should be driving demand. Processors will need supply after Christmas and Supermarkets need BBQ chops just like they do every year. Everyone’s circumstance is different but look further ahead than next week, do the sums on your feed and set your self a target turnoff weight. Quality will still sell.


  • Look forward 4 months and create a plan.
  • Start looking at the opportunities & margins available.
  • Old ewes on stubbles
  • Lamb trades at $20 – $50 buy in
  • Cow and calf units
    • Reduce herd age.
    • Freshen and split.
  • Light heifers – they were a great trade in 2019 – what’s different?
  • Do the price and weight gain calculation on store stock.
  • Stock wanted listings are King – Let someone know what you can handle.
  • If you don’t want to buy sell the agistment opportunity.





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  1. Tim fay, 12/10/2023

    Bud great article as a mixed farmer who dabbles in cfa ewes over Dorset rams , I take your point but I was getting 240 as an average for my lambs and getting 220 per tonne for my wheat now getting 370 for my wheat and 120 for my lambs.

    • Chris Howie, 13/10/2023

      Tim I don’t disagree although as a mixed farmer sheep don’t get frosted as a rule. I also don’t think we factor the spray and cost savings by using sheep on summer weeds enough. Older ewes do this so well and the joining is a bye product. To me that sets the trade up at these prices. Past resistance was about compaction from stock when I have always thought a 250HP tractor should be able to beat the footprint from a 55kg ewe. Pre drought the merino ewe, wool and lamb model earn per hectare was unbeatable. Everything has its turn and always has.

  2. Peter F Dunn, 11/10/2023

    Well done Chris Howie. Positivity (fortune) favours the brave. Exceptionally pleasing to have a report offering solutions for the real issues, instead of the usual rubbish about the invented issues.

  3. Matthew Della Gola, 11/10/2023

    Its amazing how quickley a stampede happens. Well written again chris. Cheers Matthew Della Gola

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