Meat & Livestock News

Store Lambs Navigate a Dry Summer Season


  • The lamb market faced challenges due to a softer schedule and climatic variations across New Zealand, impacting feed availability and market prices.
  • Significant drops in store lamb numbers and prices were reported, with regional variations in demand and climatic conditions influencing the market.
  • The drier summer and high costs posed additional challenges for lamb traders, with hopes pinned on favourable weather conditions to revive the market.

As autumn announces its arrival with a cold snap, the lamb trade season transitions towards the potentially more profitable winter months. However, the summer season has presented its set of challenges for lamb finishers, shaped significantly by climatic conditions and market dynamics.

Across New Zealand, the feed situation has been mixed. Hawke’s Bay enjoyed a relatively good summer, while areas north of Feilding recovered from a dry start. In contrast, regions from Feilding southwards, especially Marlborough and Canterbury, experienced dry conditions, with Southland remaining green but with limited time before colder weather sets in.

The store lamb market this year has been marked by uncertainty and softer lamb schedules. Despite occasional spikes in demand due to crop availability, the general market has aligned with expectations. February saw the North Island’s average schedule at $6.08/kgCW, with 30-32 kg male lambs in Feilding fetching an average of $2.61/kgLW, translating to 43% of the schedule. This figure is at the lower end of the historical range and a significant drop from the previous year’s 57% at the same time.

Feilding has seen a notable decrease in store lamb numbers, with 72,148 head yarded from November 2023 to February 2024, a sharp decline from the 146,500 figure of six years ago. The market correction in February was significant, despite support from Hawke’s Bay agents, highlighting the challenges faced by the sector.

Several factors contribute to the current market conditions. Drier conditions south of Feilding have dampened local demand, impacting lamb growth rates and market movement. Traders aiming for higher weights to compensate for the lower schedule have found lambs slow to move.

Despite these challenges, regions like Ohakune, Taihape, and King Country have maintained grass availability, offering some hope for market support as the season progresses.

The South Island’s demand for North Island lambs remains uncertain, influenced by rainfall and transportation costs. Preferences for later-born lambs closer to home and a reduction in grass seed quotas add further complexity to the market dynamics.

Despite the hurdles presented by a dry summer and high operational costs, the lamb market navigates through, with stakeholders hopeful for favourable weather to rejuvenate the sector as autumn progresses.

This analysis by AgriHQ analyst Fiona Quarrie sheds light on the intricacies of the store lamb market, underlining the impact of climatic conditions and market dynamics on the agricultural sector.