MORE than 52,000 sheep went east in March, as Eastern States processors hit local saleyards taking advantage of WA's sheep price drop.
Up until April 12 this year, 60,064 lambs and 7817 sheep have been trucked east, while March saw 48,251 lambs and 4039 sheep go.
While these figures are way behind the numbers that went east in 2010, when 100,000 sheep went in the month of September alone, it is still much higher than normal levels.
Buyers from Victoria and South Australia are understood to be buying lambs in WA and transporting them back to the Eastern States.
Since early March lamb prices have rallied in WA from about 340 cents a kilogram to be selling at 380c/kg.
Lamb prices in South Australia were about 419c/kg and 394c/kg in Victoria during early March but last week prices climbed to 423c/kg in SA and 402c/kg in Victoria.
But it is believed these processors would make more for skins in the Eastern States, where last week prices sat at $15 (heavy) and $12 (trade).
Good skins in WA are believed to be making only $4.
Elders auctioneer Don Morgan confirmed Eastern States buyers had been in the saleyards before Easter buying up.
"It has happened before, if there is a fair difference in price, like in 2010 when WA had that drought, they were over here then buying a few," Mr Morgan said.
"My understanding is that if there is enough gap between our price and their price they are able to do it."
The Eastern States buyers, while still active in WA, are understood to be changing their focus to buying on-farm and moving away from the saleyards, with no Eastern States buyers at Muchea on Tuesday.
WA's major abattoirs say they are now running at full capacity after a tough 2012.
WAMMCO chief executive Coll MacRury said supply was tightening up a little bit in the lead up to winter.
He said he expected prices could get over $4kg towards the end of winter.
"Our $4 contracts have kicked in this month, we are paying about $3.80 on the schedule, so it is reasonable money again," Mr MacRury said.
He said WAMMCO was still working through its lamb contracts with members but were buying in the saleyards to help fill mutton orders.
"I think WAMMCO will be busy on lambs in particular through to April, May and June but it's hard to tell really," he said.
Fletcher International general manager Greg Cross said its facility was at full capacity.
"This time last year I was sweating razor blades and it was terrible," Mr Cross said.
"From about March until the end of June last year it was the worst production numbers we had done in the history of the plant running but it has all turned around.
"We were doing about 46,000 a month this time last year for about a three-month period and now we are doing 96,000 a month.
"I suppose with all the issues in the political arena concerning live export and the restrictions we have certainly got the capacity to keep going."
Mr Cross said they were active in both saleyards and on farms and expected supply numbers to tighten up heading into winter.
He said the latest increase in lamb prices could have a bit to do with weight with heavier lambs starting to come through but admitted it was still the old saying that 'it is a numbers game'.
"In a perfect world, for industry, for farmers and for processors it would be a great model if it could be worked out how we could get a more concrete supply over 12 months," he said.
"Rather than having your bursts where you have got your spring-summer where everybody goes gang busters and prices go berserk.
"But in the winter months the processors have all the workers but we haven't got the stock."
Gingin Abattoir general manager Luke Jones said it was processing 800 a day and was expecting supply to tighten up as seeding begins but was not planning on closing over winter.