DOMESTIC demand for livestock feed has kept local pellet suppliers busy and continually developing their business - especially due to the impacts from a late break in the season and high sheep prices experienced in recent weeks.
Williams-based Macco Feeds has been struggling to keep up as livestock producers increased their demand for a quality feed product, according to Macco Feeds Australia manager Phil Beresford.
Mr Beresford said the company was kept busy by supplying cattle shipments out of Broome and Fremantle, as well as meeting demand from sheep producers as far away as Esperance.
He said due to the good prices for sheep meat - which have seen lamb prices hit a record of $289 a fortnight ago and mutton realising 550c/kg-600c/kg in the past few weeks at the saleyards - sheep producers were feeding out to fatten up their livestock before sending them to market.
"The domestic market is strong at the moment," Mr Beresford said.
"At one stage it was 10 per cent of production but there's a lot happening now so that's probably gone up to about 17pc-18pc.
"It has been fairly hectic supplying locals, right down to Esperance.
"Supply was tight until the end of last week, but now that the rains have come we should see things start to drop off."
Mr Beresford said out of their total production of 1500 tonnes of fodder went to the domestic market last week.
He said if things did quieten down in the local market he would look east for more business.
"The drought in the Eastern States has really taken its toll especially on dairy farmers," he said.
"We haven't supplied there yet as we look after WA first, but if push comes to shove we'll look at it.
"Our quality is far superior than the Eastern States."
The major portion of his WA supply has been going to support the live export trade.
Mr Beresford said 3500t of fodder had been loaded out on vessels recently including the Bahijah (formerly Wellard's Ocean Outback) and the Anna Marra (formerly the Awassi Express) which was only picking up fodder before heading to Broome to load cattle.
Cattle exports out of Broome have totalled 43,667 head from March to May 2019, shipped direct to Indonesia and Vietnam.
The number was up from 21,209 last year during the same time frame.
Port Hedland may also come on line for exports in the next few weeks if negotiations between the depot and exporters can come off.
The high demand for Macco Feeds product in the export market could be due to Milne Feeds backing out of the export market.
Milne Feeds ruminant feeds sales manager Dean Toovey said the company "took a step back from exports to focus on the domestic market".
"It has allowed us to cope much better with the domestic demand," Mr Toovey said.
He said over the last decade Milne Feeds had been improving its forecasting ability so that the company could "stretch out" its supply to farmers when they needed it.
"We are flat out right now, seven days a week," he said.
"Production is up from last year to 4500 tonnes a week.
"In other years this would have buried us, the sort of tonnes we are pumping out, but our grain swaps with sheep producers in the last couple of years has improved our forecasting ability."
Mr Toovey said it was a coincidence that the company would back out of the export trade at the same time as the live sheep trade would be impacted by stricter regulations.
"The domestic market has grown so much that we didn't need exports anymore," he said.
"Export guarantees you tonnage and our forecasting has been able to replace that.
"The amount of pellets in demand is getting more and more every year.
"With the price of sheep going up, once producers try the pellets they generally keep using them because it is a complete feed.
"It is much better than home grain mixes or lupins for feeding out."
Mr Toovey said while pellets may be slightly more expensive than other types of feed, they provided a "complete diet".
"We get calls from people who want to try it for the first time, and I'm not surprised when they come back to us and say how good the sheep are doing on it," he said.
"Everyone is feeding ewes at the moment because it's providing high protein and energy which is what they need during lambing."
He said the cattle and dairy industries had a fairly consistent demand all year round for feed, while sheep usually came on to take up "half of production this time of year".
Milne Feeds has been operating since 2005 out of its Welshpool depot and has been "tweaking its product all the time".
"We do three to four trials per year on the sheep side of the business to make sure that they perform as they should," Mr Toovey said.
"The sheep industry is the most buoyant I've seen in years.
"When prices are like this producers start looking at ways to improve and pellets are a part of that."