ONE sentence probably best sums up the current level of demand for sheep in the Middle East region: “Just give me the sheep and I will buy them.”
They were the words of one of the Gulf region’s largest livestock importers, Ahmad Al-Majed, deputy manager of international trading for the Kuwait Livestock Transport and Trading Company (KLTT).
Mr Al-Majed said there were two main concerns within Middle East livestock companies at the moment – sheep supply and price.
Current prices rank as the highest they’ve ever paid for Australian sheep.
Wethers have traded for as much as $US125 ($A138.78), young wethers as much as $US115 ($A127.70), and lambs for $US120 ($A133.24 ).
While not a lot can be done about the price at the moment given the supply and demand situation, the shortage of sheep also meant they were having to pay more costs to source these sheep.
“The shortage of sheep means we are having to go to two ports, Fremantle and Portland, Victoria, to fill boats,” Mr Al-Majed said.
“Going to the east means an extra 10 days added on to the voyage, because it takes four days to travel from Fremantle to Portland, two days to load, and four days back.”
In 2008 KLTT started having to go to two ports to fill boats in October-November.
Last year its two-port stops started in March and April, but this year as of January they had to add the extra leg.
The company’s biggest ship, the Al Kuwait, which can carry 120,000 sheep is going to go in for maintenance this year as there is just not enough sheep available to fill it for each voyage.
Luckily, he said, shipping costs were low at the moment.
“The exchange rate is hurting the trade at the moment,” Mr Al-Majed said.
“While things are tough at the moment, 2008 was our worst year, because fuel prices were so high.
Mr Al-Majed said an ideal shipment for KLTT would be 70 per cent heavy-type wethers and 30pc lamb.
Ships are now comprised of 40pc wethers and 60pc lamb.
He said due to current supply conditions, there had been a change in the balance in the import of chilled meat versus live stock.
“We also import chilled and frozen meat, and while we have stopped buying chilled at the moment because the price is too high we are re-assessing that,” he said.
While Kuwaitis wanted live sheep, he said shortage of supply was forcing customers to buy chilled product and they were becoming more accepting of it.
“The culture in Kuwait is that people want live sheep and that is another reason we have stopped buying chilled,” Mr Al-Majed said.
“But given the choice, the majority of customers will choose live.”
He said typically butcher shops brought in 100 fresh carcases a day – which were sold out within an hour of the shop opening at 6am.
“Those that come in later are forced to buy chilled.”
* Travis King travelled to the Middle East courtesy of Meat and Livestock Australia.