THE driest conditions in history for some parts of the Esperance region have forced sheep producers to offload new season lambs as soon as possible with thousands sent across the border to a South Australian feedlot.
The number has contributed to almost 400,000 head of store lambs and breeding ewes sent east this year - a massive 218 per cent increase on 2018 levels.
Landmark Brindley & Chatley agent Neil Brindley, Esperance, said due to the dry conditions experienced in the region he has sent between 4000-5000 head of store lambs from his clients east.
"We were sending store lambs across in July-August because of the seasonal conditions," Mr Brindley said.
"It's the first time that we have done that.
"Normally we wouldn't send any across, we would send them to a local processor, but some areas are just out of water.
"The whole Esperance region is very short of water.
"It's the driest in history in some parts of the Esperance region - and that's on top of the frost we had.
"It hasn't been good."
Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA (PGA) livestock committee chairman Chris Patmore, Eneabba/ Perenjori, said he sold 500 store crossbred wether lambs to an Eastern States buyer earlier in the year, which filled half a truckload.
The remainder of the truck was filled by a sheep producer at Gingin before it headed east.
Mr Patmore said there was a huge number of sheep being trucked east this year due to restocker and feedlot demand.
He said slaughter or store/feeder lambs made up about 60 per cent of the total, while about 40pc were breeding sheep - a mixture of Merino or crossbreds.
Mr Patmore said he received "comparable prices" to what was on offer in WA but it was good to see support from the east providing more competition in the market.
"The buyers were restockers looking to make a profit," Mr Patmore said.
"A small part of the Eastern States is abundant with feed and we are fortunate that they've got feed and want to take our sheep."
Mr Patmore said with the amount of sheep headed east this year there "could be a shortage from February onwards" for WA processors.
WAMMCO chief executive officer Coll McRury confirmed the outlook, saying it would be a "tight second half" of the year in 2020 after seeing a "strong spring for most processors" in WA.
Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) research officer Kate Pritchett said data sourced from the Ceduna checkpoint, on the border with South Australia, at the end of November showed 386,005 head of sheep and lambs had been transferred east from WA.
That number could be more but DPIRD would not know the final amount until the middle of January.
"This is 218pc higher than at the end of November in 2018 and 23pc higher than 2017," Ms Pritchett said.
"Lambs have made up the majority being 64pc of transfers, while adult sheep have made up 36pc.
"Despite these high numbers, interstate transfers are still well below the 906,394 that crossed the border at this time in 2010."
Corrigin sheep producer Steven Bolt said the figure could surpass 400,000 head from what he had heard.
"There's been a lot of store/crossbred, Merino wether lambs and younger ewes or ewe lambs for breeding stock that have gone across," Mr Bolt said.
"Four hundred thousand would not be far off the mark.
"We sent some of our wether lambs early to feedlotters.
"We have some surplus ewe lambs for breeding stock that have a genuine interest at the moment."
Mr Bolt said the number he sold made up a portion of the consignment that agents combined to fill the order.
"Truck loads have gone from our area," he said.
"They have been made up from a group of growers by livestock agents."
Mr Bolt said growers were taking advantage of the prices on offer from Eastern States buyers because they were "better than what we can achieve locally at the moment".
He said the decision to sell was influenced by the seasonal conditions which had affected the amount of pasture and water available for livestock.
Mr Bolt said there had been "a better marking rate than last year so there would be more in the system" even though the high number of turn off in WA would "definitely be of concern to local processors" because of the numbers available to meet the demand.
Elders State livestock manager Dean Hubbard said the volume of sheep headed east was basically due to the seasonal conditions, with many farmers experiencing a lack of water and feed supplies.
"Prices have been quite good," Mr Hubbard said.
"Prices for breeding ewes and feedlot lambs have been quite strong.
"Our growers have decided to take the option for on-farm prices, some of that is because they may not be able to get the lambs to weight for local processing requirements.
"Processors don't want feedlot lambs while there are still good numbers of paddock lambs available."
Mr Hubbard said the prices were "basically inline" with the Eastern States market - which had backed off in recent weeks.
"We've been pushing WA lambs into WA feedlots the past six to eight weeks," he said.
"A lot of Merinos have been going onto stubbles.
"As a company we are tyring to focus on keeping sheep here."
Mr Hubbard said with live export numbers down on previous years and mutton slaughter up, he didn't expect to much of an affect on the size of the WA flock.
Everything however, relied on the marking rate of lambs in the coming season.
"That will be critical," Mr Hubbard said.
He said if growers marked 1500 lambs they would generally turnoff the same number of older ewes and/or wethers - unless they wanted to increase their flock size.