WITH improved seasonal conditions, water in dams, the prospect of above average crops, improved wool prices and near record sheep returns, the Esperance Breeders' Ram Sale went off with a bang with buyers pushing prices to some of the best in the sale's history.
Unlike last year, when buyers were subdued in their bidding due to tough seasonal conditions, this year there was a buzz in the shed and buyers weren't afraid to bid up on the rams they wanted, making life easy for Nutrien Livestock auctioneer Neil Brindley and Elders auctioneer James Culleton.
In the sale, which will be one of the biggest multi-vendor, multi-breed sales for the season, 11 studs offered a combined yarding of 297 Merino, Poll Merino, Dohne, White Suffolk and Suffolk rams and they were certainly well received by the 58 registered buyers, who were strong in their bidding from beginning to end.
The strong competition right through the catalogue ensured a successful outcome with both the number of rams sold and the overall sale average rising on last year.
In the Merino section prices regularly went beyond the $3000 mark and topped at $4000 twice, while in the prime lamb sire side of the sale, prices hit a high of $2700 for a White Suffolk sire.
When the final figures were crunched a mix of local buyers and those from further afield had cleared, 92 per cent or 272 rams under the hammer after close to three hours of selling for a total gross of $421,000 and an average of $1548, to make it one the best results in the sale's history.
In comparison to last year's sale when the season was against producers and the wool market was well down, there were 47 more rams sold this year, while clearance was up 15pc, the gross rose $179,500 and the average lifted $475.
Mr Brindley said it was a very strong result for the sale and one of the best in its history.
"The presentation of the rams was the best I have seen at the sale and despite low sheep numbers in the area the sale was still well attended and supported strongly by those that are still running sheep," Mr Brindley said.
"There was very strong support throughout the sale mainly from local buyers and this is certainly a reflection of the effort put in over the years by the stud breeders in improving their genetics.
"Overall the final result was on par with expectations and it was pleasing to see such strong support forthcoming on the ram offering given the number of sheep that have left the region in the past four years due to dry seasons resulting in a lack of water and feed."
Mr Culleton said overall it was a good solid sale across the whole shed for both the Merinos and terminal sires.
"The rams presented well and were well received by a mainly local buying audience," Mr Culleton said.
"There was certainly increased buying support in general across the shed on the back of the well-established season which is much better than the past couple of years."
Merino and Poll Merino
The Merinos and Poll Merinos were the first offered and made up the majority of the rams in the shed.
In this side of the catalogue four studs offered 198 rams and by the end of the run on the back of some spirited bidding 182 had sold under the hammer to a top of $4000 twice and for an average of $1718, which was up $550 on last year.
In comparison, in last year's sale 146 rams sold from 202 offered at an average of $1168.
Like last year the Vandenberghe family's Wattle Dale stud, Scaddan, led the charge in this section, not only offering the largest team but also recording the day's $4000 top price twice.
In the sale the Vandenberghes offered 110 rams and sold 105 under the hammer at an average of $1442, which meant they sold 18 more rams than last year and their average was up $424.
Last year the stud offered 140 rams and sold 87 at an average of $1018.
The first time prices hit the day's $4000 top price was when a long-stapled, stylish crimped polled ram was knocked down to Josh and Tegan Sullivan, JC & TB Sullivan, Gibson, who have been buying from the stud for the past five years after it purchased a portion of the Centre Plus stud.
Mr Sullivan said the ram had good wool nourishment, a good body and a nice clean face.
"We look for rams which are PP (double polled) and have good fleece weight, eye muscle and fat figures and this ram had those," Mr Sullivan said.
"We want the positive fat and eye muscle to keep the fertility strong in our flock, this year we achieved a 110pc lambing across everything."
The 97 kilogram doubled polled sire had wool figures of 16.3 micron and 2.9 SD while in terms of its Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) it ranked in the top 5pc for yearling fibre diameter (YFD) and the Merino Production (MP) index with figures of -2.7 and 172 while its Merino Production Plus (MP+) index at 170 is in the top 10pc.
It also has ASBVs of 22.3 for yearling clean fleece weight (YCFW), 7.0 yearling weight (YWT), 0.1 yearling fat (YFAT), 0.3 yearling eye muscle depth (YEMD) and 164 for the dual purpose plus (DP+) index.
The Sullivans will use the ram in their nucleus flock of 230 ewes to breed rams for the 2700-head breeding flock which comprises Merino and Dohne ewes.
"We mate 50pc of the ewes to Merinos and the other 50pc goes to Dohne rams," Mr Sullivan said.
"We like the Wattle Dale rams as they are a great fit for our operation and they have the good early growth we want.
"We use the Merino rams over F3 Dohne ewes and we want to keep the early growth rates up and the Wattle Dale genetics help us do that."
The Sullivans aim to turn off their June/July-drop wether lambs off shears in February.
Along with taking home one of the top-priced Wattle Dale the Sullivans purchased another three rams from the stud to finish with a team of four at an average of $2425.
The other ram to make the day's equal $4000 top price in the Wattle Dale team was purchased by Trevor and Marie Schutz, Banksia Park Farming, Esperance, who have been buying from the stud since 2004.
Mr Schutz said they liked the 87.5kg, 17.6 micron polled ram as it was a good all round sire with good wool and carcase traits.
"We like the rams which have a good wool type and if we like a ram we buy it," Mr Schutz said.
"They have to have stylish wools with a good cut."
The deep, well-covered ram ranks in the top 10pc for YFD (-2.3) and the MP index (166) as well as top 20pc for YCFW (24.1) and the MP+ index (168).
It also has ASBVs of 6.7 YWT, -0.3 YFAT, -1.1 YEMD and 155 for the DP+ index.
Mr Schutz said they liked the Wattle Dale genetics because they were a low maintenance type sheep which have bright, white wools.
By the end of the Wattle Dale line, the Schutz family had purchased another seven sires including a Merino sire at $3500 that ranks in the top 5pc for YFD and the MP index, to finish with a team of eight at an average of $2050.
This coming joining season the Schutz will mate 1500 ewes to Wattle Dale rams and another 500 Merino ewes to White Suffolk sires.
This year they achieved a lambing percentage in the mid 90s while their wool clip usually averages between 17 to 18 micron depending on the season.
Also not afraid to bid up on the Wattle Dale rams was Ash Reichstein, Laurina Farms, Esperance, who purchased eight sires at an average of $2250.
Mr Reichstein's team included a 91.5kg, 18.4 micron PP sire at $3900 which ranks in the top 5pc for the MP index and top 10pc for YWT and MP+ index.
Matching Mr Reichstein's $3900 bid was Simon Stead, Hargate Park, Esperance, who went to this value for a 98kg, 16.6 micron PP sire that ranks in the top 5pc for the MP+ index and top 10pc for YFD and YWT.
Along with purchasing this sire Mr Stead, who has purchased from Wattle Dale for the past seven years and will join 4000 ewes to Merino sires this season, secured another six rams from the stud to finish with a team of seven at an average of $1686.
The volume buyer in the Wattle Dale run was JA Russell Australia Pty Ltd, Esperance, which finished with a team of 13 to a top of $1700.
Return buyers of eight years Wayne and Robyn White, WR White & Son, Dinninup, weren't far behind in the volume buyer stakes with a team of 10 which topped at $2100 and averaged $1120.
Mr White said they had originally been on the Centre Plus bloodline and followed it across to Esperance when the Vandenberghes purchased some of the stud.
"We are getting good results with the Wattle Dale genetics," Mr White said.
"Consistently in the past five years we have been increasing our lambing percentage, while our wool cut has also increased.
"We used to be happy with 75pc but now we are getting over 100pc regularly.
"This year unscanned our Merinos did 105pc."
Other strong supporters of the Wattle Dale team were regular buyers L & C O'Shannessy, Esperance, which averaged $1567 across a team of nine and Barrule Grazing Co, Kojonup, which finished with seven at an average of $1814, while Bott Livestock, Esperance, averaged $2400 over a team of four.
The Welke family's Westwood stud, Cascade, experienced the largest jump in average compared to last year recording a rise of $929.
The stud offered and sold 46 Poll Merino sires to a high of $3700 four times and averaged $2509, which was the highest of any stud.
In comparison, in last year's sale the stud offered and sold 30 rams at an average of $1580.
The first ram to hit the $3700 mark in the team was snapped up by Mr Reichstein, who went for a bold crimping, long-bodied PP sire which weighed in at 108kg and measured 16.7 micron in the wool.
When it came to its ASBVs, the twin-born sire by Leachim 182185 ranked in the top 20pc for YCFW (25.67), YWT (8.72) and the DP+ index (165).
Mr Reichstein also purchased another to Westwood rams at $3100 and $2800.
Next up to purchase a Westwood sire at $3700 was the Bott family, Bott Livestock, which bid to this mark for a long-stapled, stylish woolled,110kg, PP sire which measured 17.3 micron.
On the ASBVs the twin-born ram also by Leachim 182185, ranks in top 5pc for YWT (12.07) and YFAT (1.40) as well as top 20pc for YFD (-1.99) and the DP+ index (163).
The Botts also purchased another Westwood ram with DP+ index of 192 at $3400.
Third year buyer Epasco Farms, Condingup, was the third buyer to go to $3700 for a Westwood ram.
Its selection at $3700 was a well-covered, long-bodied, 105kg PP sire which measured 17.9 micron in the wool.
The Wallaloo Park 150245, twin-born son has ASBVs which rank it in the top 5pc for the DP+ index (192) and top 20pc for YCFW (26.38) and YWT (8.43).
The operation, which will join 17,500 ewes to Merino sires this season, were not only one of the top-priced buyers in the Westwood run, it was also the volume buyer finishing with a team of 10 rams at an average of $2200.
Epasco Farms' farm manager Nick Ruddenklau said they like the Westwood sheep as they were an easy-care animal with good plain bodies.
"They also have good growth rates and great carcase data," Mr Ruddenklau said.
"We are trying to increase our growth rates as we want to turn off our wethers as finished lambs as early as possible.
"We are also trying to increase our lambing percentages and decrease the micron of the flock."
Rounding out the buyers to go to $3700 for a Westwood ram was Ian Cumming, IC Cumming & Co, Wagin.
Mr Cumming selected a 99kg, 17.4 micron twin-born ram which was also by Wallaloo Park 150245.
It ranks in the 10pc for yearling staple length (16.15) and the DP+ index (176) plus top 20pc for YCFW (27.34).
Other strong supporters of the Westwood team were repeat buyer Mark Walter, Walter Ag, Cascade, who averaged $2489 over a team of nine which topped at $3100, while return buyers LR & KL West, Karleigh Farms, Gibson, secured three rams to a top of $3500 and AM & RM McIntyre, Esperance, paid to a high of $3300 for a team of four.
The Pengilly family, Penrose stud, Cascade, again offered 30 rams this year and with stronger buying support compared to last year sold 25 under the hammer to a top of $3900 and an average of $1640, which was up $329.
Last year the stud cleared 20 rams from its team of 30 at an average of $1311.
Taking top price honours at $3900 in the Penrose team was the stud's second last ram offered when it was knocked down to Peter Piercey, D Piercey & Co, Salmon Gums, who also purchased the stud's top-priced ram last year.
Mr Piercey said he liked the ram because it had both a good wool covering and good carcase traits.
The 99kg, square, long-bodied, PP sire, which is by Leachim 173122, has ASBVs of 40.4 YCFW, 0.0 YFD, 12.6 YWT, 0.7 YFAT, 1.0 YEMD as well as 192 for the MP+ index and 203 for the DP+ index.
Mr Piercey also purchased another Penrose sire at $2000.
He said this year he was aiming to join 3400 ewes to Poll Merino sires for a February/March lambing.
"This year we had a good lambing achieving 99pc across all our ewes mated and we already weaned our lambs and are now just waiting to shear them," he said.
The next best price in the Penrose run was $3500 paid by return buyer of four years Lance Norwood, Gibson, who is aiming to shear twice a year.
Mr Norwood went to $3500 for a 108kg sire which has ASBVs of 30.2 YCFW, -1.3 YFD, 12.6 YWT, -0.1 YFAT, 1.2 YEMD and 202 for the DP+ index.
He also purchased a second Penrose ram at $2700.
The volume buyer in the run was Mark Walter, Walter Ag, who averaged $1467 across a team of six which topped at $3400 for a ram with indexes of 189 (DP+) and 186 (MP+).
Just one ram shy of Mr Walter was client of seven years Paul Ietto, Allannaluke Farms, Grass Patch, who purchased five at an average of $960.
The rams will join the operation's sire battery and be joined to 2100 ewes for a six week lambing starting from April 1.
Mr Ietto said this year they achieved a 100pc lambing unscanned and they achieve a 5.5kg cut of 19.1 micron wool when they shear every eight months.
The Gibson family's Nairnup stud, Munglinup, put forward a team of 12 rams made up of eight Merinos and four Polls, for buyers to select from but unfortunately a lack of competition on the offering resulted in only six selling under the hammer.
All six rams sold were purchased by Elders, Esperance agent Michael Forward at $800 for return buyer FC Delacy & Co, Nungarin.
Mr Forward selected two Merinos and the four Polls for the operation.
The Lowe family's C-View stud, Esperance, again presented a team of Dohne rams.
This year they offered 10 and cleared them all under the hammer to a top of $1300 and at an average of $960, which was up $400 on last year.
The stud's $1300 ram was purchased by PE & JM Morcombe, Scaddan.
It weighed 93kg and had wool figures of 16.8 micron and 100pc comfort factor to go with a Dohne plus index of 162.
The volume buyers in the run were Brad Whiting and daughter Cassidy, BT Whiting & Co, Munglinup, who purchased four rams to a top of $1000 twice and an average of $850.
Mr Whiting said it was the first time they had purchased Dohne rams and they were looking to produce a first-cross ewe for their prime lamb production system.
"We will use the rams over Merino ewes, it will be a bit of a trial," Mr Whiting said.
Also bidding up in the C-View run was L & A Staunton, Myrup, which purchased two rams at $1100 and $900 while AK & FM Cook, Salmon Gums, purchased a single sire at $1100.
This year four White Suffolk studs offered 76 rams between them and by the end of the breed's run, 71 had been sold under the hammer for an average of $1313, which was up $299 on last, year when 56 rams sold from 59 offered at an average of $1014.
Leading the way in the White Suffolk run and selling the day's $2700 top-priced sire was the MacDonald family's Macsfield stud, Condingup/Beaumont.
First-time buyers Simon and Robyn Fowler, Chilwell, Condingup, secured the top-priced ram when they went to $2700 on a long-bodied, well-muscled sire which had a current bodyweight of 116kg.
Mr Fowler said he liked the thickness and length of body the ram displayed.
Along with securing the top-priced ram the Fowlers purchased another four rams from Macsfield to finish with a team of five at an average of $1920.
Mr Fowler said the operation this year was looking at joining 7000 Merino ewes to White Suffolk sires with the aim of turning the lambs off as suckers.
"This year so far we have turned off 3500 out of 5000 April-drop White Suffolk sired lambs," Mr Fowler said.
"Our first draft went in the first week of August and what we have sold so far are averaging 21.5kg dressed."
Also bidding up strongly in the Macsfield run was Coolindown Farms, Condingup, which purchased three at an average of $1200 and Heiner Wegmann, H & L Wegmann, Esperance, who purchased four all at $1000.
The Welke family's Cascade stud was the biggest vendor of White Suffolk rams in the sale offering 40 rams.
By the end of the run all 40 were heading for new homes to a top of $2600 and an average of $1430, which was the best of any stud in the prime lamb sire offering.
In comparison last year the stud offered and sold 30 rams for an average of $1110.
Picking up Cascade's $2600 top price rams was fellow vendors the Hann family, Greendale stud, Esperance.
The Hanns bid to $2600 for a twin-born, 118kg sire which has ASBVs of 0.39 birthweight (BWT), 12.70 weaning weight (WWT), 19.24 post weaning weight (PWWT), -0.74 post weaning fat (PFAT), 1.94 post eye muscle depth (PEMD) and a terminal carcase production (TCP) index of 147.
Buyer Andrew Hann said he liked the size and structure of the Cascade sire.
"I went and had a look at the stud's field day and picked him out then," Mr Hann said.
"He is a good stud ram and will be a new bloodline for our stud flock."
Regular stud buyers Brad and Cassidy Whiting secured a team of six rams this year at an average of $1517.
They paid a top of $2500, equal second top in the Cascade run, for a 133kg ram with a TCP index of 159 to go with ASBVs of 1.43 for PEMD, 13.40 WWT and 21.41 PWWT.
The other ram to make $2500 sold to the Milne family, DJ & M & MDJ Milne, Condingup.
This ram weighed 130kg and had ASBVs of 0.24 BWT, 13.30 WWT, 20.11 PWWT, -0.92 PFAT, 2.35 PEMD and a TCP index of 156.
Other stronger supporters of the Cascade offering were Preston Downs Farming Co, Esperance, which secured seven sires at an average of $1200, to make it the volume buyer in the run, while Sandplain Farming, Esperance, averaged $1260 over a team of five.
The Hann family, Greendale stud, this year offered 10 rams in the sale and six sold under the hammer to a top of $1700 and an average of $1050, which was up $100 on last year.
Topping the Greendale team at $1700 was a 114kg sire when it was purchased by I & C McCallum, Esperance.
The other five rams to sell in the Greendale team were all purchased by return buyer Chris Humphries, Esperance, who has been buying from the stud since 2001.
Mr Humphries, who will mate 920 Merino ewes to White Suffolk sires this season, paid to a top of $1000 on three occasions and averaged $920 across the team.
The Starcevich family's Brimlo stud, Salmon Gums, this year offered 10 White Suffolk sires and all sold under the hammer to a top of $1100 and an average of $890.
The stud's $1100 top price ram was one of two purchased by Grays Ag Pty Ltd, Esperance.
At scanning in mid June the top priced ram weighed 85kg and had scans of 3.4mm fat and 42mm eye muscle depth (EMD).
Taking home the biggest team from the Brimlo offering was Heiner Wegmann, who purchased six rams at an average of $867 and to a top of $900 (four times).
Mr Wegmann said it was his first time buying from Brimlo and he was looking at joining 1500 Merino ewes to White Suffolk sires this year.
"I like the White Suffolk breed because they are a good all round package and produce good lambs with length of body," he said.
There were two studs to offer rams in this year's sale and when the numbers were calculated nine of the 13 Suffolks offered had sold for an average of $622.
The biggest vendor in the run was the Brimlo stud which offered 10 and sold nine to a top of $800 and an average of $622.
The stud's $800 top price ram was purchased by the Milne family, DJ & M & MDJ Milne, who also purchased a second sire at $600.
The top price ram at scanning in mid-June weighed 69kg and had scans of 2.3mm fat and 34mm eye muscle depth (EMD).
The other rams sold by Brimlo saw four purchased all at $600 by Elders Prime Lamb specialist Michael O'Neill, while Baldock & Sons, Dalyup, secured three all at $600.