WA processors had to go the distance to secure the very best lines on offer with solid competition from South Australian-based processor JBS pushing values to the roof.
Excitement stirred at Muchea last week when lambs made a new State record price of $243 a head for a small draft of September shorn Poll Dorset cross lambs from Beverley but the momentum continued into the following day's market at Katanning when a line of 38 July drop White Suffolk-Merino cross lambs from Boyup Brook sold for $260/head.
This record price was then surpassed at the Katanning trade sale yesterday when a line of Prime SAMM ram lambs offered by the Cronin family, Bunkin Farms, Dumbleyung, sold for $289 to be the new record holders.
If a price tag of nearly $10/kg for lamb wasn't enough to impress, the results of last week's mutton sales certainly did with a draft of 30 yellow tag Merino ewes from Dumbleyung notching up a record value of $243/head.
The local mutton market has been performing well recently but last week's increase from $161/head at Katanning the week prior and $210 achieved at Muchea the day before came as a surprise to record top-priced vendor Karl West, Dumbleyung.
Mr West said he wasn't expecting half of the price he ended up receiving for his mutton.
"What we got was unbelievable," he said.
The sale results last Wednesday were equally unbelievable for Justin Corker, Boyup Brook, who was at the saleyards to see how his pen of lambs would perform at auction.
The indicators were good for the lamb market going in to the weekly Katanning sale, with prices for lambs ranging between 770-865c/kg at Muchea the day before but Mr Corker didn't expect to be going home as the new State record top-price vendor.
"It's amazing the difference one buyer can make to values at a sale isn't it," Mr Corker said.
The week previous, Mr Corker had sent another draft of lambs to Katanning, with the best of them making $188/head.
"We were really happy with the results last week so this record price was a real bonus and a big surprise," he said.
"It was quite the jump in value for very similar sheep to what we offered the week before.
"It's certainly nice to be rewarded for the hard work you put into your sheep throughout the year."
The top priced lambs had been on a mixed grain diet of oats, lupins and barley prior to the sale.
Mr Corker has been selling his lambs off gradually and said he had another 400 lambs to market this season.
"It will be interesting to see how the market goes and how the lambs sell in the coming weeks," he said.
The record price lambs were sold under the Primaries banner on the day with Primaries agent Geoff Daw saying the top-priced lambs could easily be described as one of the best lines offered at the sale.
"There was certainly a lot of anticipation prior to the sale on the back of the strong result at Muchea the day before but also due to the quality of some of the lines set to be offered at Katanning," Mr Daw said.
"The crossbred lambs from Boyup Brook were a clear standout they were very well presented, bare-shorn, probably in that 25-26kg dressed weight range and buyers noticed.
"They were a true credit to the vendor."
Elders WA commercial sheep manager Dean Hubbard said the strength of the Katanning market was overall more even throughout the sale when compared to the Muchea market the day before.
"At Muchea last week, there was a period of adjustment and as the sale progressed buyers become more active against the Eastern State's processor whereas at Katanning the sale was solid right the way through," Mr Hubbard said.
"There were similar highs and lows at each sale however I think the Katanning sale was a more even market, particularly on heavy lambs and heavy mutton.
"Whatever the top mutton market is in WA, Fletchers are generally the benchmark and will set the pace which they did and continued to bid strongly throughout, albeit with the Eastern State's processor pushing them to another level.
"I don't normally follow the beef market closely, but one knowledgeable cattle person did point out to me that the grainfed beef market is currently sitting around 550c/kg dressed and we were getting just over 600c/kg dressed for a lot of our heavy mutton.
"It was said to me at the sale you could quote the top line of mutton as $100 up I've never seen that before."
Landmark Katanning auctioneer Mark Warren agreed there was plenty of interest in the heavy end of the market.
"Prices in the Landmark lamb yarding peaked at $254 and we sold several pens above that $200 mark which was a positive result for vendors," Mr Warren said.
"With that said, there were still a lot of lambs sold between that $130-$160 range, meaning the majority of the lamb yarding was firm on the previous sale.
"The difference at the top of the market was really in the presentation those lambs which sold at the top end were among the standout pens of the day."
Mr Warren said though the presence of buyers from JBS had a clear impact on the sale, the WA processors made it clear there is local demand for sheep at the moment.
"Supply is tight everywhere at the moment and to be honest, I'm surprised we haven't seen Eastern States buyers operating here in WA already this season," he said.
Indeed, prices are hitting new highs in the east as well, with a new Australian record price set for lamb at Griffith, New South Wales, last week.
A pen of 82 Poll Dorset lambs reached a price tag of $345 paid by Fletcher International Exports.
The pre-sale liveweight of the top-priced lambs averaged 92kg with an approximate carcase weight of 42kg.
WAMMCO's Coll MacRury said the price spike in the west last week was sharper than expected.
"It was a very sharp price increase but given the supply situation we're in, it wasn't totally unexpected," Mr MacRury said.
"We know the Eastern States buyers come over every year and they do put the pressure on but as I said to be fair, we were expecting to see prices rise on the back of supply."
When asked if these record prices were sustainable for WA processors like WAMMCO, Mr MacRury said it was hard to say.
"It completely depends on the market," he said.
"If the market stays strong we can support prices like this for a bit longer but if the international market drops it will be very difficult.
"So we just have to work through our orders and look after our customers."
Given their impact on last week's sales, speculation on the movements of Eastern States buyers into the coming weeks continued at Muchea this week where prices were solid, but there were no Eastern States buyers to be seen.
WA processors held up the market nicely regardless, paying well for the best types and demonstrating there is money to be made in the WA sheep market when competition at the saleyards is hot.