AFTER going to a whole new level last year on the back of record-breaking wool and sheep prices, Merino ram sales across the State this year in general were back on last year.
With the wool market back significantly on last year when sales got underway and a tough, dry season unfolding in front of them, producers were more cautious in their bidding at Merino ram sales this year.
As result of this conservative bidding all the important figures across the board - number of rams sold, average and gross were back compared to last year's record-breaking season.
While prices were back in general, Merino stud breeders were more than happy with their final results, as the season's overall average of $1656 is the second best ever recorded.
While the wool market has been the shining light and has driven Merino ram sale results in the past few years, this year it was sheep and lamb prices that were putting a smile on the faces of producers, given the dip in wool prices.
Sheep and lamb prices were again strong over the past 12 months and hit record levels with producers seeing mutton and lamb prices surpass $200 in late autumn and early winter.
Heavyweight lamb prices peaked at $289 at Katanning on June 5 while mutton topped out at $250 at the Muchea Livestock Centre on July 23.
When mutton hit its record high in late July, Meat and Livestock Australia's (MLA) weekly report, for the week ending July 23 (which includes Muchea and Katanning prices) showed mutton realising 550c/kg, up nearly 100c/kg compared to 454c/kg on 2018.
The same report had Merino lamb performing even better quoting sales at 811c/kg compared to 628c/kg in 2018.
The strong markets seen in July have continued into the spring with prices continuing to track above last year's levels.
Like mutton and lamb prices, prices for breeding ewes at spring ewe sales this year have again been strong despite the dry season on the back of solid local buying support and good interstate interest.
Following on from last year's record values, ewe prices stayed at similar levels with prices peaking at $244 at the Elders Corrigin/ Wickepin ewe sale for a line of 1.5-year-old ewes.
But this wasn't the only sale where ewes sold for more than $200 and as a result the ewe offerings in most sales again averaged more than $140 and pushed close to the $150 mark.
But these prices had nothing on the new State record price set for commercial Merino ewes in February at the Varone family's flock dispersal sale at Hyden, where prices topped at $310 for rising two-year-old ewes and the total yarding of 4486 head averaged $257.
While sheep and lamb prices have been strong this year, the wool market had producers worried when ram sales got underway, as it had been extremely volatile since June with prices up one week and back the next.
In the past few years producers have seen the wool market continue to strengthen year-on-year but this hasn't been the case for the past six months.
The market took a tumble in June and when the 2018/19 wool selling season finished on June 24 the Western Market Indicator (WMI) sat at 1832c/kg.
Despite this drop off at the end of the season the WMI for the 2018/19 season still averaged 2091 cents per kilogram clean, which made it the highest average for the past 19 seasons.
In the middle of August, when ram sales got underway the WMI was at 1598c/kg for sale F07 on August 15.
Since then producers have seen the wool market act like a yo-yo, with prices up one sale and back the next, but in a positive the price has risen slightly since August and the WMI now sits at 1662c/kg following last week's sale F19.
Even though the market is down on the past couple of years the returns growers are receiving per bale are still strong.
During the September/ October period when ram sales were on, a 185kg bale of 21 micron, 68pc yield wool with good length and strength was worth $2110, compared to $2767 last year and $1985 in 2017.
While in the same period in 2016 and 2015 a bale was worth $1720 and $1570 respectively.
So with Merinos still reeling in good dollars, buyers were again out in force at Merino ram sales this year and while they weren't as strong as last year in their bidding they still operated strongly throughout the season to ensure a solid selling year for Merino stud breeders.
During Merino and Poll Merino sales this year a total of 9902 rams were offered at 75 auction sales, broken into 63 single vendor sales and 12 multi-vendor sales and 9031 of these rams sold under the hammer.
The 2018 season saw 10,046 rams offered and 9469 sold, so in contrast this year there were 438 less rams sold and 144 less offered.
The clearance rate was 91pc, down 3pc on last year and overall the sales grossed $14,952,450, which was down $1,949,570 (12pc).
Like the gross figure and the yarding figures there was also a fall in the overall average for Merino sales.
The average fell $129 this year to finish at $1656, making it the second best average recorded by the breed behind last year's record breaking average of $1785.
It was also the third consecutive year the breed has averaged more than $1500.
Looking back over the results since 1996 the Merino has lost market share with the introduction of numerous other breeds to the industry but over the past nine years it has claimed a fair bit back.
The market share for Merinos for the number of rams sold this year was 61pc, which was down one point on 2018, while in terms of the gross figure the Merino breed held 69pc of the market, down from 71pc last year.
The outstanding gross figure achieved by the breed this year, which was just shy of $15 million, ranks as the second biggest ever recorded and only the fourth time sales have surpassed the $14 million mark.
The largest gross figure on record was achieved last year, when sales broke the $16 million barrier and recorded a gross of $16,902,020, to set a new benchmark for the breed.
Like the past few seasons, the top end of the market was again strong this year, with 17 rams selling for $10,000 or more.
This included two rams which sold for $20,000 or more, while there were three others to sell between $15,000 and $20,000.
The top price was $45,000, when the Edmonds family's Rhamily Poll Merino stud, Calingiri, sold a two-tooth Poll Merino sire, for this value at the Rabobank WA Sheep Expo & Sale at Katanning in August.
The March shorn youngster was purchased in partnership by the St Quentin stud, Nyabing and the Glen-Byrne stud, Calingiri, in partnership, with semen shares going to the Manunda stud, Tammin and the Kingussie stud, Dumbleyung.
The AI-bred ram, which is by Rhamily Benny, was sold with wool test figures of 20.7 micron, 3.1 SD, 15.0 CV and 99.1pc comfort factor.
The next best price for the season was $22,000 achieved by the Sprigg family's East Strathglen stud when it sold a two-tooth Poll Merino at its on-property sale at Tambellup to the Charinga Poll Merino stud, Berrimal, Victoria.
The ram had Charinga bloodlines in its pedigree and measured 18.7 micron, 3.4 SD and 99.3pc CF in the wool.
The third top price was $16,500 and this was recorded by the Eaton family's, Olinda stud, Wyalkatchem, in its inaugural sale.
The two-tooth Poll Merino sire was purchased by the Old Aprelia stud, Marvel Loch.
The fourth highest price was $15,750 for a two-tooth Poll Merino sold at the East Mundalla on-property ram sale, Tarin Rock.
Also in the sale the East Mundalla stud sold two other Poll Merinos at $11,500 and $11,000.
The final ram to make $15,000 or more was sold at the Lewisdale on-property sale, Wickepin, when the stud sold a half semen share in a full wool, Poll Merino sire for $15,000.
The top price for a Merino ram this season was $11,200 paid for a two-tooth ram at the Woodyarrup on-property sale at Broomehill.
Other sales to achieve values at the higher end between $10,000 and $15,000 included the Moojepin on-property, Katanning ($12,500 and $10,000, Polls); Kamballie on-property, Tammin ($10,750, Poll); Nepowie on-property, Noman's Lake ($10,750, Poll); Barloo on-property, Gnowangerup ($10,200, Merino); Derella Downs and Pyramid Poll on-property, Cascade ($10,000, Poll) and Kolindale on-property, Dudinin ($10,000, Merino).
Those to sell in the same price range at the Rabobank WA Sheep Expo & Sale included the Mianelup stud, Gnowangerup ($12,000, Poll) and Coromandel stud, Gairdner ($10,000, Poll).
Of the 17 rams to sell for $10,000 or more, 14 were Polls, while 12 of the 17 sold to WA and Eastern States studs with the remaining five going to commercial producers.
This year 91 rams sold for $5000 or more under the hammer, compared to 102 last year.
Along with the strong sale prices there were also a number of high priced private sales during the year and the biggest of these was $25,000 for a proven Poll Merino sire, with the sale negotiated at the Thompson family's Moojepin on-property ram sale.
In addition to this private sale there were another four private sales which cracked the $10,000 mark.
At the Rabobank WA Sheep Expo & Sale the Coromandel stud sold a full wool, four-tooth Poll Merino sire for $18,000 to the Darijon stud, Narrogin and the Sunny View stud, Wagin and a two-tooth Poll Merino sire in a package deal with ewes for $20,000 to Argentina, while the East Mundalla stud sold a two-tooth Merino at $14,000 to Argentina as well.
The Auburn Valley stud, Williams and the Willemenup stud, Gnowangerup, rounded out the $10,000 private sales when they sold a Merino full wool ram and a two-tooth, March shorn Poll Merino ram respectively for this value at the Narrogin Long Wool Day.
At the 63 single vendor sales, which included five new ones this year, there were 8324 rams offered, up 76 head and 7640 sold, which was down 114 head on last year.
At these sales a total of 38 fixtures increased their offerings or offered the same numbers as 2018, while 29 sales sold the same number or more rams.
Like the number of rams sold this year, the average and gross figures for single vendor sales fell in 2019.
The average fell by $114 to finish at $1699, while the gross figure dropped $1,076,620 to $12,982,550, and while both figures fell they still rank as the second best on record, behind last year's record breaking figures.
Last year's record-breaking single vendor sales averaged $1813 and grossed $14,059,170.
In the single vendor offerings East Strathglen again took the honour of recording the best average when it achieved an average of $2845, over 170 rams sold from 174 offered.
Following on with impressive averages at single vendor sales were the Anderson Rams stud, Kojonup ($2781 average, 114 offered, 114 sold); Beaufort Vale, Boyup Brook ($2651, 70, 70), Lewisdale ($2456, 240, 240), Woodyarrup ($2203, 248, 239) and Moojepin ($2202, 131, 124).
Others to record an average of more than $2000 were East Mundalla ($2171), Angenup, Kojonup ($2133), Barloo ($2115), Kamballie ($2064) and Wiringa Park, Nyabing ($2037), which meant there were a total of 11 sales which averaged $2000 or more compared to 14 in 2018 and seven in 2017.
In addition to this there were another 19 sales that averaged between $1500 and $2000 and 10 which averaged between $1200 and $1500.
This meant 40 sales averaged more than $1200, in comparison to last year where there were 50.
Along with these there were 17 sales to average $1000-$1200, making a total of 57 sales or 90pc with an average of $1000 or more compared to 56 last year and 48 in 2017.
Sixteen single vendor sales (or 25pc) saw a lift in average this year and these rises ranged between $3 and $413.
Recording the largest jump in average was Anderson Rams, which recorded the $413 increase.
Other sales to raise their average by more than $200 included Lewisdale ($314), Olinda ($292), Coromandel ($252) and Glen-Byrne/Mannalea ($201).
A further four sales achieved a rise between $100 and $200.
A total clearance is a hard task and this year 11 sales ticked this box, compared to 18 last season.
Of these, eight of them offered teams of 100 head or more and these included Nepowie (246), Lewisdale (240), Woolkabin, Woodanilling (213), Billandri, Kendenup (200), Kamballie (180), Cardiff, Yorkrakine (120), Anderson (114) and Rangeview, Darkan (100).
The Kolindale stud, again presented the largest offering of rams to buyers, cataloguing a whopping 430 rams and selling 418 at its on-property and Esperance sales.
It offered 347 and sold 341 at its on-property and sold 77 out of 83 at Esperance.
Kolindale also topped the list of single sale offerings when it offered and sold the most rams under the hammer at its on-property sale.
The next biggest sales were Manunda (300 offered and 292 sold), Eastville Park/Quailerup West (300, 240), Angenup (250, 246), Woodyarrup (248, 239), Nepowie (246, 246), Lewisdale (240, 240), Wiringa Park (237, 232), Barloo (226, 221) and Woolkabin (213, 213), while another three sales also offered more than 200 rams.
All up there were 13 sales where 200 or more rams were offered and 11 sales where 200 or more were sold.
The five largest grossing single vendor sales and the only ones to gross more than $500,000 were Kolindale on-property ($665,800), Lewisdale ($589,550), Manunda ($533,150), Woodyarrup ($526,600) and Angenup ($524,700).
There were another 18 sales to gross between $200,000 and $500,000 to give a total of 23 sales with a gross figure of $200,000 or more, compared to 27 in 2018.
This season there were 1578 rams offered under the hammer at 12 multi-vendor ram sales, which was back 220 head and of these 1391 sold, back 324 head on last season.
There were eight sales where the offerings increased or were the same as last year and four sales where the number of rams sold was higher or equal.
The overall average for multi-vendor sales was $1416, ranking it as the third best ever recorded.
This season's average was back $242 or 15pc on last year's best ever figure of $1658.
Eleven of the 12 sales achieved an average of more than $1000, while there were three which averaged more than $1500, compared to eight in 2018.
It was no surprise the highest overall sale average and highest multi-vendor sale average was chalked up at the Rabobank WA Sheep Expo & Sale when it realised $9232 over the 14 rams sold from the 18 offered, which included both four-tooth and two-tooth rams.
Studs which sold more than two rams and achieved an average more than $5000 in the sale were Coromandel ($9000) and Barloo ($5250).
The next highest average after the Rabobank WA Sheep Expo & Sale was $1567 at the Seymour Park and Darijon combined sale at Narrogin, where the two studs sold 184 rams from 209 offered.
This was followed by $1529 at the Williams Breeders' sale, where four studs cleared 224 from 259 rams offered.
Other sales that averaged more than $1200 were Wagin ($1361), Esperance ($1326), Wongan Hills ($1313) and Corrigin ($1242).
Studs participating in two-tooth multi-vendor sales outside the Rabobank WA Sheep Expo & Sale that recorded averages of more than $1400 included Kingussie (102, 92, $1611) at Wagin; Seymour Park (184, 159, $1606) at Narrogin; Wynarling (30, 30, $1447) at Chapman Valley; Wattledale (160, 131, $1470) and Westwood (30, 26, $1412) at Esperance; Northwich (36, 32, $1428) at Wongan Hills plus Navanvale (89, 71, $1830) and Toorackie (70, 67, $1457) at Williams.
Another 14 studs averaged between $1000 and $1400 at these two-tooth multi-vendor sales.
Three of the 12 multi-vendor sales posted an increase in average compared to 2018 and these rises ranged from $61 to the biggest increase of $1482 recorded at the Rabobank WA Sheep Expo & Sale.
The two other sales to record a rise in average were Wongan Hills ($71) and Quairading ($61).
It's a hard task to achieve a total clearance and this year two sales did - Chapman Valley and Corrigin, while there were four sales, which achieved a 90pc or better clearance - Quairading (97), Wongan Hills (94), Merredin (93) and Northampton (92).
There were 29 studs to offer rams at multi-vendor ram sales (excluding the Rabobank WA Sheep Expo & Sale) this year and eight of them achieved a total clearance.
Those to achieve a total clearance with teams of 30 or more rams were Lewisdale-Corrigin (93) at Corrigin; Walkindyer (75) at Northampton; Merna (55) at Quairading; Culbin Park (40) at Williams; Mocardy (36) at Wongan Hills and Wynarling (30) at Chapman Valley.
The largest yarding of rams at a multi-vendor fixture was at the Espeance Breeders' ram sale where 272 rams were offered and 219 sold.
Other sizeable offerings were listed at Williams (259 offered, 224 sold), Seymour Park/Darijon at Narrogin (209, 184), Wagin (207, 172), Merredin (173, 161) and Northampton (162, 149).
The five largest grossing sales were Williams ($341,700), Esperance ($290,300), Seymour Park/Darijon ($288,300) and Wagin ($234,100), while another four sales grossed more than $100,000.