THE dramas which surrounded the beef industry over the last few years was a long lost memory during this year's bull sales, with producers going on an unexpected buying spree.
The final season average of $4244, which is now on record as the second best ever, wasn't a total surprise, given the strength of the cattle market over the last 18 months.
But many would not have predicted the price push, given the exodus of breeding cattle from the State in 2010 and early 2011 due to the dry season and the two-month ban on live cattle exports to Indonesia in the middle of 2011.
According to ABS figures in June 2011, the WA cattle herd totalled 1.99 million, which included 1.12m cows and heifers, and was down from the 2010 figure of 2.21m total head.
The strong trade and store cattle markets were certainly at the forefront and gave producers the confidence to re-invest in new genetics, something some may have not done for a number of years due to the depressed markets.
Before the selling season in November/December 2011, prices for all lines of cattle were well up on the same period of 2010.
The January 2012 Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australian Beef Commentary, written by Kimbal Curtis, reported the average WA National Livestock Reporting Service (NLRS) indicator for feeder vealers (200kg plus) in November/December 2011, was 241c/kg live weight, which was up 46c/kg on the previous year.
The heavy yearling (400kg plus) indicator was 198c/kg, which was up 32c/kg and heavy cows (520kg plus) were averaging 152c/kg, up 47c/kg.
Not only were these November/December prices stronger than the previous 12 months, but when you look at the average prices for all of 2011 compared to the previous four years as shown in Table 1, there was a remarkable rise across all categories.
These strong prices also continued into the start of 2012, and at the start of February, when bull sales started in earnest.
Vealer beef was selling for 250c/kg, the price for steers was 190c/kg and cow beef was worth 160c/kg, compared to 2011when vealer beef was sitting at 215c/kg, steers 180c/kg and cow beef 118c/kg.
Cow and calf producers were also rewarded throughout the season and in the opening weaner sales in late 2011, prices were up on the previous 12 months, with steers averaging 230-250c/kg and 215-230c/kg for heifers, resulting in some of the strongest weaner sales ever witnessed by agents and vendors.
At these prices producers were seeing returns on average of between $750 and $800 a head for steers and $700-$750/hd for heifers, but some were lucky enough to achieve more than $900/hd for steers.
In comparison, at the 2010 opening weaner sales, steers were averaging 210-215c/kg and heifers 195-200c/kg.
The store market and breeder sales were also strong as producers tried to restock numbers after the dry of 2010.
In the biggest first-cross, mated heifer sale for the year, the Elders Boyanup Supreme Springing heifer sale prices hit a high of $2400 and averaged $1783, which was up from $1294 in 2010.
At the Landmark Great Southern sale in January 2012, mated beef heifers sold to a top of $1600, while in comparison, the top price at the 2011 sale was $1320.
With the season proving to be the second strongest ever in terms of averages, it showed beef producers got their mojo back and realised they needed to outlay top dollar to ensure they kept their genetics moving forward in their herds in order to produce top calves.
In many cases it was again commercial breeders who dug the deepest to secure the bulls that best met their requirements.
Of the 21 bulls to sell for $10,000 or more, 11 were purchased by WA commercial producers, while seven were purchased by studs and commercial producers from outside WA, including the top-priced bull.
Bulls representing 24 beef or composite breeds, were offered for sale this year and for 17 of these breeds, WA commercial producers paid the top price.
In total, 1805 bulls were offered, with 1488 selling under the hammer to a top of $22,500, a gross of $6,314,550 and a $4244 average.
In terms of the gross figure, which is actually the dollars in the breeders' pockets, this year rates as the third best season, falling just short of the 2006-2007 figure of $6,404,200, which ranked second.
Compared to last year, which was the seventh best season on record, there were 153 more bulls offered and 155 more sold, while the clearance was up one point from last year's rate of 81 per cent to finish at 82pc.
In terms of the gross and average, the gross was up $939,095 and the average up $211.
In comparison, the 2005-06 season was the State's best, when 1903 bulls were offered, 1670 sold, for a gross of $7,196,800 and an average of $4309.
The top price this year was $22,500 for a Koojan Hills Angus bull, Koojan Hills Buddy F23.
All the talk before the Koojan Hills sale, Kojonup, focused on Buddy F23 and another of his sale teammates, Koojan Hills Lookout F2, due to their genetics and position at the top end of the Angus Breedplan figures and of course their sirey outlook.
Buddy F23 was purchased by the Spry family, Sprys Angus and Shorthorn stud, Tamworth, NSW.
The bull was sired by Coonamble Buddy B280, which is becoming an increasingly influential force within the Angus breed, while its dam was a first calver and heralded from the KCF Bennett Total sire line.
Figures wise, the bull had EBVs of +5.2 for birthweight, +12 for milk, +47, +97 and +129 for 200, 400 and 600-day weight, +73 for carcase weight, +3.9 for EMA, +0.1 for rib fat, -0.1 for rump fat and +0.8 for IMF.
The second top price for the season was also set at the Koojan Hills sale when the powerful Angus sire, Koojan Hills Lookout F2, sold for $19,500.
Once again it was an Eastern States stud, Malcolm Angus, Glenburn, Victoria, which prevailed over local buyers in the bidding.
Lookout F2 was by Hidden Valley Lookout Z7 and out of Koojan Hills D110, which carries the well-known Ardrossan Admiral A2 bloodline.
Lookout matched its visual appeal with impressive performance figures sitting in the top percentile for growth with figures of +52, +92 and +122 for 200, 400 and 600-day weight.
Not far behind in the top price stakes for the season was the $19,000 figure achieved at the Mordallup Angus sale, Manjimup, when Donnybrook producers Don and Bev Strang, BM Strang, had the final bid on Mordallup Net Worth F131.
Net Worth F131, was by SAV Net Worth 4200 and was not only appealing on the eye but had the arithmetic to match with EBVs of +4.9 for birthweight, +15 for milk, +48, +89 and +116 for 200, 400 and 600-day weight, +72 for carcase weight, +5.2 for EMA, +1.6 for retail beef yield, +0.8 for IMF, -1.3 for rib fat and -2.9 for rump fat.
The Angus stranglehold on the top prices for the season was broken at the Monterey Invitation sale, when the Tullibardine Murray Grey stud, Albany, sold the fourth top-priced bull for the season at $15,500 to the Raymond Park Murray Grey stud, Chittering.
The fifth top price for the season was $14,000 and this was paid for another Koojan Hills Angus bull at the stud's on-property sale when NSW commercial producer Sue Ray, Ournie, secured Koojan Hills Equator F119.
In terms of market share, British-bred bulls commanded the largest share of the market with 57pc, while bos Indicus types accounted for 27pc and European 15pc.
Of the breeds Angus was by far the biggest by number with 632 bulls offered and 555 sold under the hammer for a clearance rate of 88pc.
The black breed accounted for 46pc of the total gross across all breeds with a figure of $2,884,600, which resulted in an average of $5197.
In comparison to the previous selling season there were 66 more Angus bulls offered and 81 more sold, while the gross was up $735,650 and the average was up $663.
The top price in the Angus breed and top overall, was $22,500 and it occurred at the Koojan Hills sale when Koojan Hills Buddy F23 was knocked down to the Spry family, Sprys Angus and Shorthorn stud, Tamworth, NSW.
The Angus breed also accounted for 16 of the 21 bulls to sell for $10,000 or more this season.
The second biggest breed in terms of volume of bulls offered was the Brahman breed.
There were 249 Brahmans offered and 191 sold at a clearance rate of 77pc and as a result the breed grossed $459,200 for an average of $2404.
Both the clearance and the average for the breed were down on last season and maybe this was a reflection of a change in northern breeding programs due to the reduced live export trade to Indonesia.
Last season there were 246 bulls offered and 209 sold at a clearance rate of 85pc, for a gross of $559,000 and an average of $2675.
While Brahmans may have been the second biggest breed in terms of number of bulls offered, just pipping the Murray Grey breed, the titles were reversed when it came to the number of bulls sold.
Australia's own breed, the Murray Grey, was the second biggest breed in terms of numbers of bulls sold and also had the second largest gross figure of the breeds.
This season there were 241 grey bulls offered, with 195 selling under the hammer for a gross of $967,950 and a solid average of $4497.
Compared to 2011, 12 more bulls were offered and 14 more sold, while the gross rose by $86,195 and the average jumped by $178 on last year's figure of $4319.
The Murray Grey's gross, which was the second largest contributed to 14pc of the overall total.
The top price in the Murray Grey breed and fourth top overall was $15,500 and it was achieved at the Monterey sale by the Tullibardine stud.
The fourth biggest breed in terms of number of bulls and gross was the Simmental breed, with 123 bulls offered and 94 sold.
Last year there were 122 Simmental bulls offered and 91 sold.
The gross for the breed this year rose from $381,350 in 2011 to $407,500, while the average was up from $4191 to $4335, which represented an increase of $144.
Of the 24 breeds offered at sales, 10 experienced an increase in average with the Charbray breed experiencing the biggest increase of $1613 for the four bulls sold under the hammer, to finish with an average of $3838.
Last year the breed sold eight bulls under the hammer for an average of $2225.
The SimAngus breed experienced the next biggest jump in average, with its average rising $806 on last year.
This year the breed offered 13 bulls and sold five under the hammer at an average of $4500.
Last year the breed offered 15 bulls and sold nine under the hammer for an average of $3694.
Other breeds to experience a rise in average of more than $500 were the Hereford/Poll Hereford, which was up $803; Lincoln Red $675 and Angus $663.
This season there were five breeds to record an average of $5000 or better and these included Black Simmental, Hereford/Poll Hereford and Angus, while there were another nine breeds which averaged between $4000 and $5000.
The Black Simmental breed topped the breed averages at $5984 for the 16 bulls sold under the hammer from the 25 offered.
Second highest in the average stakes was the Hereford/Poll Hereford with a figure of $5319 for 18 bulls sold, while third was the Angus breed with a result of $5197 for 555 bulls sold, followed by the Blonde d'Aquitaine breed, which averaged $4786 for 14 bulls sold.
In terms of clearance, three breeds this year achieved a 100 per cent clearance and those included Charbray, Lincoln Red and Queenslander.
But it must be noted all three breeds offered and sold less than 10 bulls, while the Santa Gertrudis and Droughtmaster breeds fell just short of 100pc with clearances of 98pc and 95pc respectively.
Other breeds to achieve clearance rates above 85pc were Angus (88) and Charolais (88).
p Single Vendor Sales
There were 21 single vendor sales held during the season and in some sales vendors offered more than one breed.
All up there were 867 bulls offered, compared to 740 last year and in terms of bulls sold, vendors cleared 721, which was up on last year's figure of 591.
As a result, the single vendor sales grossed $3,502,700, which was up on last year's total of $2,616,655 by $886,045 and averaged $4858, which was up $430 on last year's figure of $4428.
The Angus breed dominated the single vendor sales in terms of both numbers and results, taking top price, top gross and top average honours.
The top price for a bull at a single vendor sale this year was the year's overall top price of $22,500, when a bull sold for this value at the Koojan Hills Angus sale at Kojonup to the Sprys Angus and Shorthorn stud, Tamworth.
Koojan Hills also sold the second top-priced bull at a single vendor sale when the Malcolm Angus stud, Glenburn, went to $19,500 for a Koojan Hills sire.
Along with the two top-priced bulls, Koojan Hills sold another nine bulls for more than $10,000.
Other top prices worthy of a mention were at Mordallup, where its top-priced bull made $19,000 and another made $11,500; Coonamble Angus sold its top-priced sire for $12,500 and another at $12,000 and Blackrock Angus sold its top-priced sire for $10,000.
Outside the Angus breed, in terms of top prices, Melaleuca Murray Greys sold a sire at $12,500 to Woodbourn Murray Grey stud, Cressy, Tasmania and Bonnydale sold a Black Simmental for $11,500 to commercial producers from South Australia.
In terms of averages, it was the Koojan Hills Angus stud, which came up trumps again topping the single vendor sale averages, when it offered and sold 41 bulls for a whopping average of $8177, a record for the sales in WA. The average was up $1309 on last year's figure of $6868 when it offered and sold 37 bulls.
Next best in the average stakes was the Coonamble Angus stud, Bremer Bay, which offered and sold 51 bulls at an average of $6397.
Last year the stud offered 43 bulls and sold 34 under the hammer for a $5426 average.
Other sale's to record an average of more than $5000 were the Blackrock Angus stud at $6030; Diamond Tree Angus $6000 and Allegria Park Angus $5156. There were another seven sales which averaged more than $4500 and two which averaged between $4000 and $4500.
There were 14 sales to record an improvement in average on last year.
The biggest improver was the Blackrock Angus sale, which recorded a jump in average of $2081, to $6030 from $3949 last year.
Also recording an improvement of more than $1000 were Allegria Park Angus $1466 and Koojan Hills Angus $1309, while those which showed an improvement of more than $500 were Diamond Tree Angus ($985), Coonamble Angus ($971), Keston Vale Angus ($675) and Biara Santa Gertrudis ($510).
In terms of gross figures this year the honours of the highest grossing single vendor sale went to the Koojan Hills Angus stud and this was no doubt helped by the fact it sold 11 of the 20 top-priced bulls.
The stud offered and sold 41 bulls for a gross of $335,250, which was up from $254,100 last year, when it offered and sold 37 bulls.
The second highest grossing sale with a figure of $326,250, was the Coonamble Angus stud, when it offered and sold 51 bulls, while the Diamond Tree Angus sale grossed $312,000 to be the third biggest.
Other sales to gross more than $200,000 were Blackrock Angus $253,250, Mordallup Angus $248,500 and Willandra (Red Angus and Simmental) $211,750.
In terms of clearance this year there were six single vendor sales to achieve 100pc clearance - Allegria Park Angus, Diamond Tree Angus, Coonamble Angus, Kogody Angus, Koojan Hills Angus and Biara Santa Gertrudis.
Not far behind and achieving a clearance of 90pc or better were Lawsons Angus (96pc), Strathtay Angus (94pc) and Willandra Red Angus and Simmental (90pc).
Those to achieve par or better with the overall single vendor sale clearance of 83pc, were Blackrock Angus (89pc) and Mordallup Angus (85pc).
p Multi-vendor Sales
This year there were 938 bulls offered at 13 multi-vendor sales, which included two new sales.
Of these, 938 bulls, 767 or 82pc, sold under the hammer for a gross of $2,811,850 and an average of $3666.
In the 2010-2011 selling season there were 912 bulls offered with 742 selling under the hammer for a clearance of 81pc, a gross of $2,758,800 and average of $3718.
There were 26 more bulls offered and 25 more sold and the clearance jumped one point but the average fell $52.
This year the PGA Kimberley bull sale held the mantle of the State's biggest, in terms of number of bulls offered, with 154 bulls from four breeds going under the hammer to a top of $5250.
Of these, 135 bulls sold for a 88pc clearance, $359,750 gross (the second largest for multi-vendor sales) and a $2665 average, which was a good outcome for the sale considering it occurred just as the first shipments were leaving the north following the suspension of the live export trade to Indonesia.
In comparison at the 2010 sale, there were 161 bulls offered, 149 sold for a gross of $455,000 and a $3054 average.
The top price of the sale was $5250 and it was achieved by the Droughtmaster breed with the Barlyne stud, Gayndah, Queensland, the vendor.
Following the PGA Kimberley bull sale, in terms of the biggest number of bulls offered, was the inaugural Elders Invitation X-Factor bull sale.
In this new sale there were 109 bulls from four breeds offered and in the end 95 were cleared under the hammer at an 87pc clearance, for a gross of $232,900 and average of $2452.
Just behind the X-Factor sale in terms of numbers was the Farm Weekly WA Supreme bull sale where 105 bulls from nine breeds were offered and in the end 70 sold under the hammer for a gross of $245,500 and an average of $4092.
In terms of gross, the highest-grossing sale was the Monterey Invitation Murray Grey and Angus bull sale, which grossed an impressive $445,200.
In the sale, 95 bulls were offered and 85 sold for an average of $5238.
The gross of the sale was up $46,200 on the 2011 sale, when 89 bulls were offered and 84 sold.
Other sales to gross more than $250,000 were the PGA Kimberley bull sale, the Farm Weekly WA Supreme bull sale and the Gingin Multi-breed bull sale.
In terms of the top price for multi-vendor sales, this was achieved at the Monterey Invitation sale when the Tullibardine stud sold a Murray Grey bull for this year's $15,500 fourth top price, to the Raymond Park stud.
At the same sale, Tullibardine also sold Murray Grey bulls for $10,000 and $9000, while the Monterey stud sold two Murray Grey bulls at $10,000 and $9750.
The $9250 top price for a Kapari Angus bull at the Gingin Multi-breed bull sale and the equal $9000 top price for two Charolais bulls, both offered by the Copplestone stud, Dardanup, at the Farm Weekly WA Supreme bull sale are worthy of mention.
The Monterey Invitation sale also took the highest average honours, with the Monterey and Tullibardine studs offering 95 Murray Grey and Angus bulls and selling 85 under the hammer for a huge average of $5238, which was up $488 on last year's result of $4750.
The next best average was achieved at the Gingin Multi-breed bull sale, where 69 bulls were offered and 58 sold under the hammer for an average of $4797, which was up $338 on last year's result, when 61 bulls sold and averaged $4459.
There were three other sales to achieve an average of more than $4500 and these were the New Generation-Cherylton Angus sale ($4720), the Farm Weekly WA Supreme bull sale ($4714) and the Power into Profit Red Angus sale ($4596), while there were another three sales to average more than $4000.
There were a total of seven sales to record a growth in average compared to last year and the biggest of these was witnessed at the Monterey Invitation sale at Kojonup where the average rose $488.
The other sales which recorded an increase in average were New Generation-Cherylton Angus bull sale ($442), Gingin Multi-breed bull sale ($338), Power into Profit Red Angus ($242), Invitation sale at Narrogin ($157), Great Southern bull sale ($131) and Farm Weekly WA Supreme bull sale ($4).
There were no sales this season to record a 100pc clearance rate, but there were five sales which achieved clearance rates better than 85pc.
Those sales included the Great Southern bull sale (92pc), Monterey Invitation bull sale (89pc), PGA Kimberley sale (88pc), Elders Invitation X-Factor Sale (87pc) and the Inaugural WA Charolais bull sale at Brunswick (86pc).