WHAT a season it has been for stud breeders, who have certainly reaped the rewards of growing confidence in the WA sheep industry.
With all the stars nearly aligning, there was plenty of confidence leading into this year's ram selling season compared to last year, which was challenging.
Producers, brimming with confidence due to a reasonable season and improved markets, weren't afraid to bid up at this year's sales and as a result the season average jumped to an impressive $1103 - the second best ever recorded.
This season could not have been set up any better.
Most areas got some good opening rains in April and gave producers plenty of confidence, after last year's great season.
But as was the case last year, some areas did find the going tough in the middle of winter when the rains dried-up, but thankfully the season improved.
While the two consecutive seasons panned out similarly in terms of rainfall, the sheep market has been poles apart.
The catalyst for this improvement over the past 12 months was the opening up of new markets for WA sheepmeat including a big deal involving V & V Walsh and China and the live export markets starting to move again.
As a result of this increased live export and processing demand, sheep prices have improved at an exponential rate over the past year.
Since the beginning of 2014, wether prices have slowly risen to a peak of $110 in June and have since hovered between $80 and $100, which is up on last year's prices which ranged from $50 to $70.
This strengthening market was further reinforced at the Combined Agents Katanning June Special Sheep sale when the wether portion of the yarding averaged $109.71, which was up 47 per cent on last year's average of $74.58 and topped at $160.50.
The positives kept coming at the Katanning sale when a line of 1.5-year-old ewes sold for $172.50 to V & V Walsh, which purchased at the sale for the first time.
The losing bidder on the line was another processor, WAMMCO International, demonstrating just how strong the demand has been from processors in the past year.
Like wether prices, lamb prices skyrocketed compared with 2013 prices, as processors scramble to fill orders.
When the selling season started in September, sucker lambs were fetching 540c/kg at the Muchea Livestock Centre, which was 90c/kg or 20pc dearer than 2013, while old season lambs were selling for 420c/kg, up 70c/kg.
Even though these prices were well up on last year they were nowhere near the season's peak price for lambs of 620c/kg, which was regularly achieved at the Muchea Livestock Centre for lambs throughout June and early July.
During the same period in 2013 lambs were selling for 430c/kg at Muchea.
These strong prices and a positive outlook for sheepmeat both domestically and on the export front provided buyers with more confidence at this year's spring ewe sales.
This year prices hit a high of $132 at the Elders Wickepin ewe sale, compared with last year's season high $115.50.
Other lines have consistently sold for more than $100.
While there has been plenty to smile about in terms of sheep prices, the wool market has again provided some testing times for growers despite being relatively stable for the past 12 months.
In mid-July the gross price for a 175 kilogram bale of 21.0 micron, good style, sound fleece wool with a 68pc yield was $1355, while the average price for a bale of the same description for the 2013/14 season, based on the Western Market Indicator which averaged 1107c/kg clean, was $1465.
Both these prices for the 2013/14 season were up on the previous 12-month period, with the bale price up 11pc from $1320 in 2012/13 and the WMI up 5pc from 1058c/kg.
This slight increase is reinforced when you look at the last six years decile that is at 60pc, which means wool prices have been below today's price 60pc of the time.
At the start of the selling season the Western Market Indicator was at 1067c/kg, which was up 48c/kg or 5pc for sale F07 on August 14, 2014, on the same period last year when the indicator was at 1019c/kg.
The market remained stable in September, before rising to a peak of 1085c/kg in sale F15 on October 9, before slipping slightly over the past couple of weeks.
However if we look at what a bale of wool was worth during the September/October it also shows the market is slightly up on this time last year.
This year a 185kg bale of 21 micron, 68pc yield wool with good length and strength during the September/October period was sitting at $1445, which was up $45 a bale on 2013 and $75 a bale on the same period in 2012.
With the list of positives growing each day, sheep producers showed they were prepared to bid up at ram sales to grow and improve the quality of their flocks.
As a result they pushed the final result up on last year.
This year 15,458 Merino, British, Australasian and South African breed rams have been offered at sales throughout WA, with 13,851 selling at auction to gross $15,283,210 at an $1103 average and to a top of $31,000.
The clearance rate this year was 90pc, making it only the third season where the clearance rate has been 90pc or better, since 2000.
In comparison last year 15,664 rams were offered and 13,310 sold under the hammer for a gross of $13,446,150 at an average of $1012 and an 85pc clearance.
This means across the board this year, 206 less rams have so far been offered and 541 more rams have been sold, while the gross was up $1,837,060 (14pc) and the clearance was up 5pc.
This year's ram selling season average of $1103 is the second best recorded since 2000, and was up $91 on last year and up 58pc on the 2000 average of $697.
The $31,000 season top price was paid for a Hillcroft Farms Poll Dorset ram at the IGA Perth Royal Show sale.
Not only did the ram set a world record price for a Poll Dorset ram at auction when it was sold, it also created another piece of history.
The sale marked the first time a British and Australasian breeds ram had sold as the top price ram across all breeds in a ram selling season in WA.
In the past Merinos have always held the mantle.
In terms of gross, average and clearance the 2003 year is the best on record.
In that year 18,510 rams were offered, 17,159 sold for a clearance of 92pc, while the sales grossed more than $19.5 million and averaged $1137.
Since 2000, we have seen the average peak in 2003 at $1137 and from there it declined to a low of $827 in 2007, before showing an upward trendagain.
When it comes to the number of rams offered and sold across all breeds the peak was in 2004.
Since that year the number of rams sold has fallen away and mirrored the State's diminishing sheep flock.
The exception was 2011 when the number of rams sold increased.
This year was like 2011 and the number of rams sold moved upwards.
Given the positive outlook for the sheep market it was not surprising to see the number of rams sold increase.
With the lamb market humming along, the British and Australasian breed sales experienced the biggest jump in numbers with 297 more rams offered and 609 more sold compared to 2013.
As well as increasing numbers the British and Australasian breed sales achieved a rise in average of $163 compared to 2013, while the average for Merino sales lifted $77 and African breeds rose by $45, with both of these over a small number of rams sold compared to 2013.
The Merino was again the strongest performer recording an average of $1176, indicating producers continue to have faith in the breed that has been the backbone of the Australian sheep industry since settlement.
In terms of market share the Merino breed stills holds more than 50pc of the market.
This year its market share decreased by 3pc to 58pc of the rams sold compared to 2013.
The Dohne breed lost one point to finish with a market share of 5pc, while the Prime SAMMs and White Dorper/Dorper breeds maintain their market share of 5pc and 3pc respectively.
These losses in market share by the Merinos and Dohnes were gained by the British and Australasian breed, which grew its market share by four points to 29pc.
When the British and Australasian breeds market share is broken down Poll Dorsets sit at 14pc, making them the second biggest breed sold behind Merinos, White Suffolks are at 9pc (third biggest) and Suffolks at 2pc.
The Poll Dorset and White Suffolk breeds both grew their market share this year by one point.
But when you look at the market share of the breeds on the gross figures, Merinos hold 62pc, British and Australasian breeds 27pc (Poll Dorsets 12pc and White Suffolks 8pc), Dohnes 5pc, Prime SAMMs 4pc and White Dorpers/Dorpers 3pc.
The Merino, Poll Dorset and White Suffolk breeds were the only breeds to gross more than $1 million this season.