THE state's last June special for the year proved it truly was the Melbourne Cup of sheep sales when it grossed $1.65m and set prices not seen for a decade.
A big crowd turned out in uncharacteristically fine Katanning winter weather and packed the laneways to savour the afternoon's work and revel in buoyant prices that show no sign of abating.
For graziers, there was still reason to marvel at the transformation of the sheep industry over the past 18 months, with a yarding of 17,659 sheep averaging $25.40 in 2000, and one of 21,290 sheep averaging $49.86 in 2001.
This year, a total of 25,126 head was yarded by agents Elders and Wesfarmers Landmark and sold for an overall $65.78 average.
Wesfarmers Landmark auctioneer Mark Warren was delighted with the result and said the majority of the prices were true to what had been happening in the past 12 months.
He detected hesitation on behalf of bidders in the initial stages but once values were established, the market continued to get stronger right through to the final stages.
"No-one should be disappointed with what they got today," he said.
Similarly, Elders Katanning manager Mark Mahney declared it a premium sale and that quality was "quite outstanding considering the season".
The yarding also surprised onlookers for the depth of quality and presentation.
With the exception of a few lines showing the season, most were in better-than-expected condition, perhaps illustrating the new regard farmers have for their sheep.
Predictably, the live exporters were the powerhouse behind the bidding, taking almost 37pc of the yarding and digging deeply into the plainer lighter grades considered the domain of graziers.
But interestingly, graziers found a bit extra to pay for annually-forwarded lines that carried a reputation for quality, and the final analysis revealed graziers bought three of the five lines that topped the $80-mark.
While it was anticipated the heavier sheep would go to exporters, the $87.50 top price September shorn white tag wethers offered by Woolkabin stud, Katanning, failed to surprise anyone when they were knocked down to graziers Young & Connell, Williams.
It was a superbly presented line with a wool cutting ability that lifted them out of the ordinary.
It was an act of wool confidence not seen for several years but the query over wool remained.
One onlooker announced that 19-micron wool had increased 81c in Sydney the previous day and the response from his mate was, "so what, it probably went down 81c today".
Al Mukarish dominated the bidding on the heavier sheep, taking 11 lines to meet a ship scheduled to dock on Tuesday and paying from $64 for March shorn wethers to $78.50 for spring shorn.
The compnay's state manager, John Edwards, said there were plenty of sheep in the 35-37kg range but they wanted heavier 40kg-plus wethers and based prices on $62-$65 a head plus wool value to go into their typical Saudi Arabia market for young sheep.
Wellard buyer Murray French was also a strong bidder but with a boat not due for several weeks, he could afford to pick some lighter lines that would meet shipping criteria at a later date.
Emanual Exports was active to a lesser extent and there was strong support by sheep traders on the plainer lines, while graziers picked their way through annual drafts and lines sent from drought-stricken areas in an effort to stock their paddocks in a season that has so far shaped up to be a top year.
Most sheep went to the southern and western areas but several wether lines were also destined for Moora and a couple went to Kellerberrin and Beverley.
The 2538-head ewe yarding was a highlight of the day, with buyers demonstrating an enormous appetite for breeding sheep.
Values peaked at $75 for a complete drop of September shorn ewe hoggets that vendors Kerry and Allan Shaddick, Needilup, were quitting due to the season.
Other drafted-out white tag ewes made as little as $45.50 for bare shorn and up to $67.50 as prime lamb breeders started securing ewes for the coming breeding season.
pSee reports on pages 46-47 and pages 54-55.