SA restockers are facing "big challenges" ahead to rebuild their flock numbers, after increased competition between restockers, large-scale processors and interstate buyers at saleyards has pushed ewe prices to all-time highs.
Elders Dublin/Yorke Peninsula livestock manager Matt Ward said producers that had heavily destocked because of a lack of feed should expect to continue to pay "top dollar" for breeding ewes in the months ahead.
"It will be game on for those who are looking to replace their numbers," he said.
"In the past six weeks, a lot of ewes in SA have been sold interstate because they have nowhere to source breeders.
"Most restockers will just have to pay the high prices, but there will be a portion of producers who will not be able to afford to go back into the sheep job for at least a while.
"They will just have to rebuild from the limited numbers they have left.
"Breeding numbers have continued to decline and it is going to take people with good financial backing to get back into the sheep job to restock."
Mr Ward also said that as long as processors were prepared to pay upwards of $6 a kilogram dressedweight to fill their contracts, "restockers will struggle".
BM Livestock's Brian Schiller, Eudunda, said since rain had arrived in the North East pastoral district, restocker demand had increased.
"A lot of stations are down to nothing and are facing big challenges ahead," he said.
"There are a lack of ewes in the system already and with so much of the breeding stock being sold straight to slaughter, the capacity for restockers to buy will be limited."
Mr Schiller said the impact of producers not being able to secure breeding stock was immediate.
"They want sheep now and this is why producers are buying less quality ewes too - it is all they can get their hands on," he said.
"The flow-on effect from that will be lamb production and quality next year.
"A lot of producers have not mated ewes to crossbred rams and have been forced to go back to Merino (rams) to rebuild numbers."
Kadina producer Nick Bruce buys about 600 Merino ewes each year to join to White Suffolk rams, but if prices continue to rise, he will decrease that number.
"We have cropping and no contracts to fill, so we have the option to back out," he said.
"We buy ewes and sell them as scanned in-lamb through the saleyard."
Mr Bruce offered dry breeding ewes at the SA Livestock Exchange at Dublin this week and was pleased they made $144.
"Although they were dry, they were still good breeding stock," he said.
"Eventually buyer resistance had to begin, but if buyers back out because of the competition with processors and interstate buyers who are helping to push the prices up, it will only make it harder."
Mr Bruce said he would have to restock eventually and hoped he would not need to "pay top dollar" to do that.
But Elders Naracoorte livestock manager Tom Dennis said most South East producers had maintained breeding ewe numbers.
"The SE is in the position to begin selling sheep back into the system," he said.
"This year a lot of ewe lambs were slaughtered.
"Breeding stock that are not retained by producers, if they are not snapped up by processors, will mostly go back into NSW, which might reduce interstate buying competition in SA."