LIVE sheep exports are quietly leaving Portland as the industry keeps the revived trade under wraps.
The Weekly Times understands a ship has left Portland in the past month but agents and producers remain tight lipped about sourcing or selling sheep.
The ship has provided another option in a flagging mutton market, which has seen prices dip to their lowest level in years.
On Monday, the mutton indicator closed at 141c/kg, down 3c/kg for the day and 6c/kg for the week.
A year ago, it was trading at exactly double this at 282c/kg carcass weight.
It is believed heavy sheep selling to the live export trade have been making only a slight premium over kill values.
But lighter sheep, 45-50kg, have been selling for $65-$70, or above what the local market is offering.
The Weekly Times attempted to confirm the shipments with the Port of Portland but a representative declined to comment.
EMS Rural Exports Pty Ltd, a major live sheep exporter, did not return calls.
Despite the recent Portland ships, Australian live sheep exports are expected to fall to the lowest level in 20 years.
Meat and Livestock Australia believes the trade will soften this year, on the back of an already tough market.
Last year, Victoria's live sheep exports were the smallest since 1989, with just 60,000 sheep leaving from July to December.
MLA sheepmeat analyst Robert Barker said there were two main factors for the subdued outlook.
"Total live sheep exports are forecast to decline to their lowest level in over 20 years, to around 2 million, mainly due to the self-imposed suspension of exports to Bahrain, and delays in finalising approved supply chains in Saudi Arabia," he said.
The Export Supply Chain Assurance Scheme approval is yet to be finalised in Saudi Arabia, which in the past has taken up to 1 million sheep.
Australian Livestock Exporters Council chief executive Alison Penfold said there was a range of constraints on the trade, such as the inability to send sheep to Saudi Arabia and the self-imposed ban by Australian exporters to Bahrain.