The Naracoorte blue ribbon first-cross ewe sales later this month should again see great pay days for vendors, although agents are not expecting the magical $384 record paid in 2018 to be broken.
While older ewes are worth $40 to $50 more than the same time last year, and many early season prime lambs have made $7.50 a kilogram plus, there have already been plenty of opportunities to buy breeding ewes due to the widespread drought, which may dampen demand.
Last month at Corowa, NSW, unjoined first cross ewes topped at $344 and ewe lambs hit a $262 high twice, while at Wycheproof, Vic, the best unjoined ewes made to $318.
Thomas DeGaris & Clarkson director Darren Maney says a $300 to $350 ewe has "never been more justifiable" with the "very exciting times" for the lamb industry and the Australian dollar at Unites States 67 cents.
"In the 1980s when we were paying $120 for a ewe, we were selling an old ewe for $6 and fat lamb for $25," he said.
But he acknowledges potential buyers are thinking hard about outlaying such large amounts of money.
"When you go to buy 280 ewes and are writing a cheque for nearly $100,000 upfront it makes them really look at them hard," he said.
"With a lot of the old (sheep health) barriers dropped some people have tended to push into different parts of Australia to buy different sheep, but why you would take the risk for $20 to $30 when you can buy sheep that you can be certain about their biosecurity at Naracoorte is beyond me."
The Naracoorte Combined Agents Association have made it a requirement that all ewe lambs in the yarding are approved ovine johnes disease vaccinates and next year this will extend to include the 1.5-year-old age group too.
Pinkerton Palm Hamlyn & Steen director Robin Steen also expects demand will be "very, very strong".
"We always seem to be able to go higher than Corowa (sale) so I see good numbers of ewes making $320 to $340 and some exceptional lots more than that again," he said.
He also expects the ewe lamb job to be "pretty solid" with several lines of Border Leicester-Merino ewe lambs offered on AuctionsPlus in mid-October by PPHS clients selling to $240.
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Mr Steen says producers from the South East and western Vic - among the few places fortunate to have a good season - have had many options to buy breeding ewes, with significant numbers of Merino ewes bought in from WA and NSW.
But he knows many prime lamb producers have held off for the quality of the breeding and performance of sheep offered in the Naracoorte blue ribbon sale.
"(Vendors) have spent a lot of money on getting the sheep right so they go out and prove a point for those who buy them," he said.
"One of the things people want is that biosecurity, to think they can buy stock here and know everything is done right - it is more important than ever with the (SA) health changes to pay for vaccinated sheep."
Elders Naracoorte branch manager Tom Dennis expects prices at Naracoorte to be very similar to 2018's buoyant levels and says with present returns this still represents "good value for money".
"Considering we are getting $200 for a 28kg dressed lamb at the moment, a cull for age ewe is worth about $170 and a first cross fleece is bringing $20, the cull price plus the wool plus the lamb is $390," he said. "The ewes are well paid for in the first year."
But he says those specialists who buy ewes lambs each year to grow out to 1.5 year olds, should comfortably be able to make $100 a head margin on those lambs they bought in 2018.
To many, Mr Dennis said Merino ewes were attractive buying with a 3.5-year-old ewe able to be bought for $150, due to the widespread drought, but he said the Lower SE and western Vic were far better suited to running first cross ewes.
These prime lamb producers would continue to capitalise on the higher fertility and extra lambs from the first cross.
Mr Dennis says Naracoorte has always been renowned for its quality, with the majority of the yarding bred from large-framed,structurally sound SA genetics, a fact not lost on buyers.
"We have had some enquiry this year from those who have buying sheep out of NSW and the western districts (of Vic) for the last three or four years, who are looking to come back because they are not outperforming what they have bought here previously," he said.
Mr Dennis also expects a bigger proportion of the Border Leicester-Merino ewe lamb offering will be of mateable weights due to the mild winter.
"It hasn't been that wet this year with only 13 inches here (at Naracoorte) but it has come at the right time and the sheep in the past few weeks are really going ahead, they may be 4-5kg heavier (than 2018)," he said.
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