THE difference between how the store sheep industry reacts to weather and events compared to cattle has always been intriguing.
Recent rain in parts of NSW and Queensland has been enough to spark a significant price rise for cattle.
Consider the prices achieved for pregnancy-tested-in-calf beef heifers at Ballarat last week. They topped at $1480 for 2 1/2-year-old Angus with most quoted as selling around $1100.
Yet just a few weeks ago, PTIC heifers were struggling to sell for more than $750 at Wodonga and Yea in the northeast.
On paper, the lamb and mutton markets have improved since Christmas, with figures from the National Livestock Reporting Service showing trade lambs lifted from a low of 327c/kg carcass weight to an average of 356c/kg this month.
Export lambs improved by a similar margin.
However, the joined ewe market was tough at the annual store sheep sale at Urana in southern NSW last week, with bidding reaching just $114 and a number of pens passed in.
Traditionally, the sheep market is always a lot slower to react to market and seasonal movements compared to cattle.
There is little argument that the dry, hot weather is the main reason why store sheep values have fallen.
A number of agents however, also mentioned the psychological impact the price falls for mutton and lamb - which have been more severe in recent months than anticipated - have had on farmers, particularly the younger generation.
Albury agent David Hill said the performance of lamb markets this past season had spooked some of the younger producers who hadn't experienced the extreme highs and lows of livestock trading during the 1970s and 1980s.
"Prices were bought back so significantly (in the past year) that it has had an impact on confidence, and some of the younger cropping blokes have been put off sheep," he said.
Another agent told Weekly Times Now there was "a different generation in the sheep industry" today who were "looking for bigger profit margins", which had taken some of the stability of the market.
"The old-timers would stick with sheep and were happy with a $10 margin, now we've got generation X and Y coming through and they are not interested in the workload involved with sheep unless they can see a pretty big profit in it," he said.
In its sheep industry forecast released last month, Meat and Livestock Australia said there had been a noticeable change in sentiment, with nearly as many producers indicating they planned to decrease ewe numbers over the next year as intended to increase breeding flocks.
Before this, the trend had been to increase ewe flocks due to the record lamb and sheepmeat prices.
The other trend identified in the MLA forecast was a shift back to Merino sheep and wool production as the promise of high returns from meat fades.
There was some evidence of this at Urana last week, with Merino wether lambs selling better than expected at $38 to $68.50.
Among the buyers was Noel Stein from Henty in NSW who paid $40 for 300 wether lambs and said they were looking to take the farming operation back to more wool.
He said store sheep price was also a factor, as he was confident they could cut out of the $40 wether lambs in one year.
"I can pay for these wethers in their first shearing, and I probably wouldn't be buying them otherwise - it's a pretty good opportunity at the moment," he said.