THE Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) is encouraging sheep producers to "make sheep selling decisions carefully" after a record 239,600 sheep and lambs were transferred east from Western Australia in the first two months of 2020.
That is more than half the total number that were transferred east in 2019, at 409,112 head.
January saw just 27,050 sheep trucked east but reports were circulating within the industry that February numbers will be way higher - which proved to be true at 212,550 head, according to statistics from the Ceduna Checkpoint, South Australia.
If demand from the Eastern States continues, the figure could soon eclipse last year's figure - which was the highest number since 2011.
Eastern States' restockers, processors and feedlotters have been active in the WA market, competing against local buyers including live exporters for the past month.
That looks set to continue in the near future, causing some concern among local butchers and processors that the price hike is making it hard to compete and may result in a reduced throughput at abattoirs in coming months if numbers are hard to source.
Sheep producers, on the other hand, are revelling in the good times and making the most of the good prices on the back of what has been a difficult and dry summer for many areas - with a record 10 water deficiencies declared in WA.
DPIRD was urging sheep producers to evaluate their flock selling strategies carefully to ensure the long-term profitability and viability of their enterprise and the industry was not eroded by short-term opportunities to cash in on high saleyard prices.
DPIRD analysis shows a record 239,600 sheep and lambs were transferred east from WA in January and February, of which 61 per cent (145,400 head) were lambs and 39pc (94,100 head) were adult sheep.
DPIRD senior development officer Mandy Curnow warned growers to think carefully about the impact the sale of young breeding stock would have on future flock profitability.
Ms Curnow urged growers to consider the long-term ramifications of selling off breeding stock on both their flock and the industry's ability to satisfy ongoing local demand.
"While prices are currently strong across all classes, it is important for producers to consider the impact selling breeding stock will have on their own flock's current and future profitability if the replacement stock is reduced," Ms Curnow said.
"Key considerations will be whether or not to sell off young, maiden ewes or proven performers that are essential to maintain the value of the flock in the future."
DPIRD's 'Implications of management decisions on the WA sheep flock in response to changing markets' 2019 report, found the class - rather than the number - of sheep transferred east had a larger impact on the future volume of sheepmeat and wool produced.
"The scenario modelling found when a greater proportion of ewes to lambs were transferred east, the size of the WA sheep flock declined over a 10-year period, which could place pressure on the industry's ability to supply meat and wool customers," Ms Curnow said.
"The challenge for producers is to maintain current business viability, while at the same time retaining enough breeding ewes to ensure continued turnoff and future flock profitability."
DPIRD said its Sheep Flock Composition Calculator was a new tool that could assist producers to compare selling scenarios and model the consequences of selling or retaining different age classes of ewes over six years.
"Producers can use the calculator to evaluate the impact of changes on the age structure of the breeding flock, the potential number of lambs at a given weaning percentage, the culling or classing percentage and the proportion of wethers retained," Ms Curnow said.
"This information will give producers a clear understanding of the impact of short and long-term consequences of their decisions on their breeding objectives, production strategies and finances."
Modelling by respected economic analyst John Young, commissioned by DPIRD, has shown that it is highly profitable to supplementary feed ewes - despite current high costs.
"The Breeding Ewes are Worth Feeding report concludes that farmers and consultants can be confident that it is profitable to supplementary feed their breeding flock to ensure successful lambing and to give the highest priority ewes, twinners, the best feed and management during pregnancy," Ms Curnow said.
"The modelling shows that twin bearing ewes are $60 per head more profitable than single bearing ewes, which are $60 more valuable than dry ewes.
"Twin bearing Merino ewes mated to Merino rams were valued at $280, while twin-bearing Merino ewes mated to a terminal sire were worth $320 each.
"These results demonstrate how important it is to make the right selling and retaining decisions and to use tools like the Sheep Flock Composition Calculator to develop profitable flock management strategies."
DPIRD's Season 2020 webpage has a new article 'Making Good Sheep Management Decisions - summer and autumn', which maps out flock nutrition priorities for the next three months.
"It's important for producers to have a clear understanding of the feed requirements for each class of their flock, while access to quality water could be a challenge for some producers in dry areas," Ms Curnow said.
"There is also a good opportunity to undertake pregnancy scanning to identify twinning ewes so they can be managed separately to optimise lamb survival, as well as to identify dry ewes that could be sold off."
The webpage has a wealth of updated information to assist sheep producers navigate the months ahead, including feed and water budgeting, a supplementary feed calculator for pregnant and lactating ewes, pregnancy scanning and nutrition.