THE Katanning saleyards broke records two weeks ago, with a yarding of 31,243 sheep.
The yarding was the biggest the venue had housed, featuring a very good yarding of both lambs and ewe mutton, according to Katanning saleyards manager Rod Bushell.
Mr Bushell said he had never seen more than 30,000 sheep at the Katanning yards, which opened in 2014.
He said while higher sheep numbers were usually expected for this time of year, dry weather conditions in April and May and a poor long-term forecast had built up the numbers to new heights across all WA saleyards.
“It was the biggest yarding in the new facility, by about 6000,” Mr Bushell said.
“The numbers have been building because the market has been good in the past few months, but things have also dried off.”
Mr Bushell said pastures across the regions had dried off so dramatically that producers were forced to de-stock some of their livestock.
“People that were hoping to hang onto sheep have come to the point where they can’t,” he said.
“The dry weather really brought on those high numbers, that’s for sure.
“Money wise things have been good too, but it is really the ‘last-hoorah’ before people get on tractors – so I think it’s a combination of things.”
The numbers came off this week at Katanning from the May 3 sale, but Mr Bushell said they were still high.
“If it stays dry we will keep getting those higher numbers into June, but as soon as we get a decent rain I expect them to drop off pretty quickly.”
Mr Bushell said if it had rained he would not have seen record-breaking numbers.
“Everyone is trying to hold onto stock these days, especially with wool prices the way they are,” he said.
“People are holding onto their young wethers, where they haven’t done that in the past.
“If it stays dry, they are the first things to go of course.”
Saleyard sheep yardings have been building over the past six weeks, with an increase in vendors and interest from the Eastern States, across all WA saleyards.
The Muchea Livestock Centre also experienced higher than average yardings, with a total of 26,000 sheep last week and another 13,822 on Tuesday.
Katanning Landmark agent and auctioneer Mark Warren attributed the spike to “that time of year”.
“This time of year before seeding, most people have held onto sheep,” he said.
“Once they start, some people get rid of a few – so that’s most of the reason.
“Because it hasn’t rained, people have probably held onto them longer than usual, and got rid off all the weeds.
“Now its all dried out those numbers are coming through.
“With that strong market, about 70 to 80 per cent of sheep are coming through either Katanning or Muchea.
“If it doesn’t rain in about three weeks, in the southern half, it will get busy again.”
He said a large portion of the numbers came from Esperance, Ongerup, Gnowangerup and up to Katanning.
Beverley producer Rod Beecroft attended the Muchea Livestock Centre sheep sale on Tuesday with Beverley Elders agent Noel Morton and past Elders agent Colin Willey.
Mr Beecroft offered a line of 250 sheep in the sale and said prices were still firm, despite the high volumes.
“Every year around this time we see higher numbers, but not as high as we saw last week,” Mr Beecroft said.
“It gets too dry and they all come in.
“If it rains in the next few weeks we will see those numbers drop off dramatically.”
Mr Morton said he had noticed producers were “clearing the decks”.
“They get to seeding and they clear the decks for cropping,” he said.
“We also had those short few weeks over Easter and Anzac Day, so some people may have held some back until last week.”
Mr Willey said despite the volumes, he had never seen ewe prices so high.
“Prices are still good,” he said.
“We certainly weren’t getting those prices for ewes last year.”
Merino ewes hit $107.50 a head last year and last week hit $120.50, according to Elders reports.
Toodyay sheep producer Trevor Lee said he attended the Muchea Livestock Centre nearly every week and said the increase was mostly seasonal.
“Everyone has different reasons as to why it’s so busy,” he said.
“But I don’t think it will be as big in the next few weeks.
“It’s more likely to come back down in the next few weeks, especially if it rains.”
Landmark Muchea sheep auctioneer Tiny Holly said the yardings had noticeably increased at Muchea over the past six weeks, due to the lack of wet weather across the State.
“We had 88 vendors last week at Muchea, which is above average,” Mr Holly said.
“We have watched the sheep numbers rise from 15,000 to hit about 26,000 last week.
“The market has held, which is a positive thing for industry.”
Mr Holly said the yardings were about 8212 sheep at Muchea and about 13,910 sheep at Katanning last year.
According to Landmark and Elders reports, prices last year also reached a top of $119 on heavy lambs, while recent sales have reported lambs selling to more than $150.
Mr Holly said WA was experiencing wet conditions this time last year, so it was a different story.
“The grasses were green last year,” he said.
“We have experienced this large turnoff because the Wheatbelt and places as far as Northampton hadn’t had a drop of rain.”
Mr Holly expected to see yardings come back to the average of about 6000 to 8000 head once the region experienced some rain.
Darren Hindle of Tumbulgum Farm said the market was still strong, which is good for producers.
“I think a lot of the reason (for the high volume of sheep) comes down to seeding, so the numbers should drop off in the next few weeks,” he said.
“There are a few reasons for the spike.
“But the price has remained strong, and are up about $20 to $30 on last year.”
Mr Hindle said if the rain holds out over the next few weeks, he expected another spike in numbers from producers.