DEMAND from the Eastern States is continuing to affect the Western Australian livestock sector with a buyer for Cedar Meats Australia, based at Victoria and New South Wales, active at the saleyards now for two months.
From central NSW, the buyer, who did not wish to be named, has been in WA sourcing mainly lambs at a rate from 1900 to 6000 head "on a good week" - enough to fill four B-Double livestock carriers.
He said in the past few weeks about 13,000 head had been sent across the border.
About 90 per cent of them were lambs for restockers to fatten up on pastures now that rain has fallen across much of NSW and there is green feed that needs to be managed.
The Cedar Meats buyer has been active at the Muchea Livestock Centre (MLC), the Katanning Regional Sheep Saleyards and also purchasing direct from producers on-farm.
He said the company would need him to be in WA until the supply of lambs in the east met the demand, or the price went too high.
Last week at Muchea he said the competition was strong with local processors although he managed to fill his order.
Muchea management said the sheep that were purchased by Eastern States' buyers were spelled for 12-18 hours at the centre on adlib feed and water before they were loaded onto trucks.
This gave the sheep time to rest and be ready for carriage to the border where they would be spelled again before making the final leg of the journey.
Local processors including WAMMCO, Hillside Meats, Beaufort River Meats and butchers Borrello Beef and M & M Princi, as well as lotfeeders, also attended the sale.
Livestock agents also bought on behalf of some clients because of the COVID-19 measures in place restricting the number of buyers to essential only.
Restockers and other buyers have been asked to purchase through an agent to limit the number of people on the rails during the sale.
Buyers were also issued with high-viz vests so that they could easily be identified and along with transporters and other essential personnel they were to strictly follow the 1.5m distancing rule.
WAMIA staff said the measures had caused some contention among usual attenders, but overall things were working well to keep the saleyards open and functioning.
They hoped that the saleyards could get back to normal in the next few weeks, but that depended on government decisions.
One buyer said the new measures made it better for them because there were less people in the way, crowding around the pens and limiting the vision and ability to bid on the livestock.
A lotfeeder said even though he only purchased about 100 sheep every week it was important that smaller buyers attended to keep the competition in the market.
"I might have only bought five pens today (about 80 lambs) but I bid on 25 pens," the lotfeeder said.
"They can't kick us out cause it stuffs up the whole auction system."
The lotfeeder said it was a competitive game trying to source sheep at the right weight for the right price in order to fatten them up for processing or resale to make a profit.
He usually entered the market from between 16-22kg depending on the condition.
"Some sheep are in less condition than others and they take a few weeks longer to get to weight," the lotfeeder said.
"You might get them cheaper but you have to be prepared to put that additional time into them."
Prices for WA sheep spiked early this year on the back of Eastern States' demand, hitting a high of 890c/kg for lambs and 700c/kg for mutton at Muchea on March 17.
Prices for ewes 24.1-30kg at Muchea have been above the 600c/kg mark for the past three weeks for the first time since July 2019 when they reached the high of 652.2c/kg.
Katanning saw the high for the same carcase weighted ewes on March 11 when the price reached 648.1c/kg.
Both top prices were three-year highs according to Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) figures.
The March prices held for about two weeks before dropping back 150c/kg for lambs and about 90c/kg for mutton, even though less livestock were yarded.
In early April the number yarded dropped by 20,000 head in two weeks at Muchea.
Last week saw 12,000 head yarded, a jump of 8000 on the previous week of 4000 head.
Yarding numbers also dropped at Katanning but have come back in the past two weeks.
Overall prices are still strong with good condition lambs and mutton still in demand.
MLA reported that cattle yardings have also followed suit, with numbers "down for a record low yarding of 205 mixed quality cattle at Muchea" on Monday, March 14 - although it was the Easter long weekend.
WAMIA staff said it was the lowest they had seen it but it didn't stay that way for long with the following week bouncing back.