FRENZIED buyer bidding at both prime and store sales in the past week has pushed cattle prices beyond 500 cents a kilogram (liveweight) as focus shifts sharply towards restocking depleted herds on the back of recent rain.
The Eastern Young Cattle Indicator continued its steep climb to 642.75c/kg (carcase weight). That's expected to push even higher with some individual sale averages well above the EYCI. The EYCI has surged 30c/kg in a week and 140c/kg in the past month.
Part of this price push was restockers trying to buy early before the market really began to heat up.
Coonabarabran grazier Bob Freebairn bought 111 steers at Carcoar's special weaner sale last Friday in a bid to fully restock as quickly as possible.
The Carcoar sale had been brought forward this year due to the deteriorating season on the Central Tablelands. With rain at just the right time, the earlier sale paid off and vendors said the market was $200 to $300 a head better than they expected.
With 50 millimetres last month and another 60mm this month, Mr Freebairn said he was right for feed for about three months now.
He said restockers who got in early may have got in before the market ratchets up a few more notches.
"I think the heifer market is going to go mad," he said.
None of the weaner steers at Carcoar sold below 330c/kg (lwt) with some pens selling as high as 528c/kg.
Restocker yearling steers averaged 363c/kg at Meat and Livestock Australia reported NSW prime sales this week, which was about 40c/kg higher than the week before and nearly 110c/kg more than this time last year.
All categories were dearer at Tamworth prime sale, but it was the cow prices that had agents excited. Agents said while cows had made more than 300c/kg, they had never seen prices so high, adding the market was being driven by grass as restockers pay more than the processors.
Likewise, cows at Forbes sold for more than 300c/kg.
Kevin Miller Whitty Lennon agent, Luke Whitty, Forbes, said the cattle market was up 30c/kg to 40c/kg after 40mm to 50mm of local rain.
Processors have also been forced to lift direct-to-works grids to shore up supply.
As rain makes the procurement job tougher for processor buyers, the ability for plants to continue to operate at full strength is waning.
Patrick Hutchinson, who heads up the processors' peak advocacy body the Australian Meat Industry Council, said there were no reports yet of desperate shortages of cattle forcing shift shutdowns but decisions were likely being made on a day-to-day basis.
Grown steer offers were 20c/kg to 25c/kg (cwt) above rates a fortnight ago and cows up around 20c/kg.