RECORD prices for first-cross breeding ewes have tumbled over and over in the past decade on the strength of the prime lamb market.
Last week it happened again, with the Funke family, Bundara Downs, Western Flat, outlaying $476 during the AuctionsPlus national sheep sale for 171 April/May 2019-drop scanned in-lamb Border Leicester-Merino ewes.
The 82kg ewes were bred on the Yorke Peninsula by Rob, Steph, James and Anna Mumford at Minlaton.
This transaction surpassed the $446 national record notched up in May, when a Deniliquin, NSW, producer sold 81 first-cross ewes, SIL to White Suffolk sires, also online.
The Funkes, who run one of the state's largest terminal sire studs, bought the ewes for their commercial flock of 900 BLM ewes at Mundulla South, which they use to evaluate their genetics.
When there is an opportunity to buy the right article we do and we knew the performance of the bloodlines
Greg Funke says they are chasing top genetics in their stud and work on the same philosophy in their commercial flock. They had a "few more bids up their sleeve".
"When there is an opportunity to buy the right article we do and we knew the performance of the bloodlines," he said.
In 2017, Bundara Downs bought 220 ewes from Mumfords for $326, which performed well and are confident of achieving more than 140 per cent lambing percentages out of their latest purchases.
"We mate a lot of ewe lambs in our stud, our management is set up to handle them so we know we can get the results out of them and the lambs on the ground," he said.
"It makes the bottom line quite easy."
Elders Bordertown branch manager Brenton Henriks said it was difficult to predict if the record would be broken at the Naracoorte feature sales in spring.
Prices last year topped at $402.
"With the uncertainty of COVID-19, I don't think we will see that rise much," he said.
"These sheep for their age are some of the best grown that you will find and the advantage with these is the cashflow in the lambs."
In 2011, Mr Henriks was the first agent to sell BLM ewes for $300 for a client.
Nine years later, he says prime lamb producers, especially those in the reliable rainfall South East, have made the most of some great returns.
"If you look at the industry we are the major supplier of lamb overseas - there is only one flock bigger and that is China," he said.
Mr Henriks said it should also be remembered that Bundara Downs were only replacing a proportion of their flock with these ewes.
"You ride it up and you ride it down - guys have been selling lambs for $200 in the last 12 months that bought ewes five years ago for $150, it is an averaging system over a period of time," he said.
A PARCEL of Border Leicester-Merino maidens to lamb a little out of schedule for the Mumford family at Minlaton have broken the national first-cross ewe price record.
Elders Minlaton branch manager Adam Pitt said it was a management decision by his clients Rob and Steph Mumford to market the 13 to 14 month-old ewes early in the season.
"They got in-lamb a bit later than we would have liked," he said.
"If they had been earlier, we would have probably dropped the lambs ourselves and then sold the ewes as 1.5-year-olds at Naracoorte.
"The South East has a lot more feed than we do here in spring."
Mr Pitt had hoped the Mumfords would be rewarded for the outstanding first-cross ewes, which were sired by Glencorrie Border Leicester rams and out of large-framed Mid North Merino ewes. They also scanned in-lamb at 172 per cent.
But what happened was "above his expectations".
"It is always hard to know what they were going to make, but we used the $446 record as a guide," he said.
"We thought they may make $450 - the sheep were 20 kilograms heavier than those and they had done well for previous buyers so there was interest for them."
Mr Pitt said breeding top quality sheep was a proud tradition for the Mumfords, with Rob's father Bob running Brontannia Border Leicester stud for many years and a "passionate sheep man".
Despite the high price, he still sees the changeover as "value for money", and while there is a "bit of a hiccup" with COVID-19, he says anyone in sheep would be feeling confident.
"In the past 12 months, heavy mutton, which is what these will be when they are killed as six-year-olds, have been making $180-$210," he said.
"Last spring, the second-cross lamb job was consistently $250-$300 in the Naracoorte market, so that is a great price even without the wool you get off them."
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