Meat & Livestock News

Dynamics in Lamb Prices: Light vs. Heavy

TL;DR: The gap between light and heavy lamb prices has widened, with heavy lambs favoured due to U.S. export demands and economic strategies affecting local and global market trends.

In the recent market observations, the National Light Lamb Indicator has averaged at a notable 30¢ below the National Heavy Lamb Indicator over the past five years. The current year has seen an unprecedented increase in this gap, with a staggering 162¢ difference marking the largest recorded this year.

Price Indicators

National Heavy Lamb Indicator:649 ¢/kg cwt

National Light Lamb Indicator: 487 ¢/kg cwt

Market Trends

The National Trade Lamb Indicator (NTLI) acts as a barometer for our domestically consumed lamb, covering lambs of up to 12 months old across all fat scores, with carcass weights ranging between 20–26kg. The optimal carcass weight in Australia stands at 24kg.

The National Heavy Lamb Indicator, reflecting lambs heavier than 26kg, is primarily aligned with export demands, notably to the US, which favours these heavier carcasses.

Conversely, the National Light Lamb Indicator includes lighter lambs, weighing 12–20kg, which appeal to markets like the Middle East and the UK, showing a preference for smaller carcasses.

Economic Implications

2022 marked a pivotal year, concluding a rebuild phase post-drought, where lamb supply was tight due to efforts to restore flock numbers to their previous levels. This situation limited processor options, boosting competition for lighter lambs. During this rebuild, purchasing lighter lambs proved cost-effective for growing them out to a more lucrative weight.

With recovery underway, processors are now prioritising heavier lambs to optimise profits per unit, given that processing costs are largely constant per head.

Global Demand Shifts

Recent trends also underscore a rise in US demand contributing to the price premium on heavier lambs. In March, export figures rose by 36%, reaching 30,707 tonnes, highlighting February and March as peak export months historically.

Future Outlook

Post-April, the influx of light lambs is expected to rise until year’s end, influenced heavily by weather conditions which might sway restocker preferences towards lighter lambs moving forward.

In conclusion, various factors are at play in shaping the pricing dynamics between light and heavy lambs, from global market demands to local economic strategies, all of which dictate the current and future states of lamb markets.