The Australian Sheep Meat Market: An Overview
How to evaluate the potential price of slaughter lambs
The first is the carcass weight. The carcass weight is the weight of the animal after it has been slaughtered with the head, skin & intestines removed.
The second is the value of the skin, which is used to make products such as sheepskin coats, ugg boots etc.
In Southern Australia most lambs sold for slaughter are sold through saleyards that hold weekly markets. In Victoria the largest selling centres are Ballarat and Bendigo while Wagga wagga is the largest in NSW. Unlike cattle selling markets, the lambs & sheep are NOT weighed. Instead buyers estimate the carcass weight & skin value of a pen of animals before making a bid in dollars per head for all of the animals in the pen.
Market reporters from the National Livestock Reporting Service, which is an independent body that reports on stock markets, collects theses prices and breaks them down intop average weight & skin values. This is the information that appears in lamb & sheep price tables in the rural press each week.
Most lamb producers use these tables as a guide to work out the value of their own stock. If you are considering selling Dorper or Dorper Cross lambs in the saleyard market remember that these lambs are a lot heavier than they look. An experienced livestock buyer will be fooled into understimating their weight unless he has had previous experience in actually seeing the animals being weighed. Perhaps it would be best to choose a market where the buyers have expereince in buying Dorper & Dorper Cross lambs.
When you sell stock at the saleyards you need to sell them through a livestock agent. Choose your agent carefully. You pay the agent for a service so you want your agent to do the best job possible for you (ie get the best price possible for your animals). In my experience the small local livestock companies provide a much better service than the bigger national companies. However it is probably best if you ask other local lamb producers for their recommendations. When you receive your statement of proceeds from the agent who sold your sheep on your behalf , you will notice that there will have been at least 3 deductions from the sale proceeds:
You can choose to sell directly to an abbitoir or meat buyer and bypass the agent and the saleyards should you so wish. Some abbitoirs will buy directly from producers. You will need to contact the appropriate person at the abittoir (usually the buyer) and find out what the abbitoir will offer you for your sheep / lambs. Frequently the buyer will not give you a firm price without seeing the stock. If you can establish a relationship with the buyer and always supply well finished stock the buyer will be prepared to give you a fairly firm price when organising the sale, (before he has seen the animals). It is a good idea to have a set of electronic scales so that you KNOW how much your animals weigh.
If selling direct to the abittoirs or meat buyer you will have still have to pay the government levy which will ultimately go to Meat & Livestock Australia to fund the work that they do on behalf of Australian Livestock producers.
Meat buyers and Abittoirs will have certain specifications for the lambs or sheep that they buy. In many cases they want sheep or lambs within certain dressing weight and condition score ranges. The money that they pay for animals that fit within their specifications is usually good, however you can be heavilly penalised pricewise should animals fail to meet the specifications. It is therefore a good idea to be able to ensure that all animals that you supply for such sales meet the specifications demanded by the buyer.
As well as having electronic scales so that you can weigh all animals, it is helpful if you also know how to condition score animals.
Live Condition Scoring Sheep
Live condition scoring is a simple, fast method of assessing the overall condition (thinness or fatness) of your stock. It provides an indication of available fat reserves that can be used by the animal in periods of high energy demand, stress, or suboptimal nutrition and allows producers to make better management decisions. Condition scoring is also a useful tool in assessing if lambs meet meat market specifications
Live condition scoring of sheep is a "hands on " method of assessment which is a valuable tool in estimating carcase muscelling and fat cover. The level of accuracy can be improved upon by regularly comparing the condition score of a live lamb with the actual GR- measurement on the carcase.
This information can be obtained from all AUS - MEAT acredited abattoirs and by closer liason with meat buyers and meat processors.
Although demonstrations on how to live condition score can help, live condition scoring of sheep is a personal practical skill that is best learnt by practice. Producers are encouraged to assess their lambs before slaughter and to follow them through the abottoirs to inspect their carcasses.