26 Jan 2024

Summer lamb prices slide down the big dipper

From Country Life, 7:21 pm on 26 January 2024

"It's going to be a tough year. Do you want to talk to the bank manager or me?" Sheffield farmer Tom Ferguson told Cosmo Kentish-Barnes after his on-farm lamb sale.   

The sale took place in the yards at Baldoon Farm, a scenic 860-hectare hill country property at the end of a gravel road.

"Anyone who comes up here is an idiot or lost!" jokes Tom's dad Gary, who was helping out in the yards before the sale.

Gary's father settled on the farm after returning from World War II, then he took over and now Tom and his wife, Rachel, farm the land.

"He was a stock agent, then he came home and I had all the accounts in a sugar bag, so I handed them over to him," Gary says.

Malvern Lamb Sale

Gary Ferguson (left) and a local farmer Photo: Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Tom's been holding the summer lamb sale at the farm for 14 years.

"We've got no irrigation up here, so if it gets dry I like to put more of my grass into my ewe lambs for next year, and my ewes for the following year," he says.

This year about 3000 plump, Romney cross-bred lambs were put up for auction.

Several pens separated them by size.

"There are some whoppers that'll kill out at 22 or 23 kilos. They weigh about 50 now, and then we go down to the smaller ones that weigh about 23 kilos," Tom says.

"Some lambs will be killable and some lambs will be stores," adds Gary.

Malvern Lamb Sale

Tom Ferguson (centre) chats with farmers before the auction gets underway Photo: Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Malvern Lamb Sale

Drafted lambs at Baldoon Farm Photo: Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Hazlett auctioneer Phil Manera used his skills to eke out as much as he could from the small crowd of farmers and stock agents who turned up.

After 20 minutes all the lambs were sold.

Not long after, a lingering dust cloud was all that was left as the convoy of utes headed to another on-farm sale near Springfield.

The average price per animal at the sale was $86. Tom was hoping for $90. Last year it was $110 and the year before that $130, a worrying downward trend for the farmer, who has started working a day a week off-farm at the local saleyards.

"I knew it was going to be bad. The schedule's low and there's a lot of uncertainty out there, especially if it doesn't rain again, but at least we had a full clearance."

Malvern Lamb Sale

Phil Manera conducts the sale from inside the pens Photo: Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Malvern Lamb Sale

Pat Ferguson puts on refreshments for the stock agents in the shearing shed Photo: Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Malvern Lamb Sale

Photo: Cosmo Kentish-Barnes