LIVESTOCK producers continue to cash in on the demand from Eastern States' buyers with a solid first AuctionsPlus sale result for the year by Elders, seeing 23,989 head sold last week for $3.6 million.
The buyers were based in New South Wales and Victoria and were chasing a variety of sheep types.
Elders sourced 13,188 sheep from clients in the Lower Great Southern and 9572 in the Upper Great Southern for the sale.
Merino wether lambs sold for an average of $145, while crossbred lambs sold for 512 cents a kilogram.
Border Leicester/Merino ewe lambs sold for an average of $286 per head.
The sale came on the back of details from the Ceduna Checkpoint that revealed 27,050 sheep were trucked east in January - with predictions among industry that it would be much higher in February - although figures are yet to be released.
Last year 409,112 sheep went east with lambs making up 63pc.
WAFarmers livestock council president David Slade, Mt Barker, said with farmers in the Eastern States coming out of drought they were "buying anything they can get their hands on".
"Producers are just selling where the best price is," Mr Slade said.
"Store lambs are a good buy because they will just put them on the green feed and fatten them up."
Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) livestock committee chairman Chris Patmore said more competition in the market was a positive thing for WA producers, as Eastern States' restockers, processors and feedlotters were actively buying in WA.
"It comes down to dollars," Mr Patmore said.
"If they can get cheaper sheep in the east they will, but the numbers are just not there at the moment.
"There's few sheep available in the east and it comes down to economics."
Mr Patmore said depending on size, it could cost $20-$40 per head to transfer sheep to NSW or Victoria.
Mr Patmore didn't believe the demand from the east would make much of a difference to the WA flock.
"Most of the sheep were going to be sold anyway," he said.
"It hasn't brought any extra sheep onto the market.
"Producers are only selling what they want to and they are being rewarded for it."
Mr Patmore said last week he sold 110 surplus breeding ewes to a restocker in the east which would have otherwise gone to a WA butcher.
He said he "doubled my money" as opposed to what the local butcher was offering, and the sheep got to at least have one more lamb before being turned off.
"We need to keep it in perspective," Mr Patmore said.
"There's a bit of a burst at the moment but you never know how long it might last.
"If it keeps raining in the east they'll keep buying."
Mr Patmore said the supply/demand balance had been in the producers' favour for about 10 years and they had been getting good prices.
This looks set to continue with national sheep flock numbers predicted to contract to about 65 million.
Mr Slade said "if local processors don't pay enough the (WA flock) numbers would drop and then it won't be profitable to run an abattoir".
He said WA farmers were benefiting from good returns from CBH on grain crops, which were "the highest returns in the country", so "people are happy to drop a few sheep in favour of cropping more".
"Part of the reason CBH is so good is it gives them an alternative," Mr Patmore said.
"In the Eastern States it is more viable for them to run stock and they get more return than we do.
"It is better to run sheep and cattle as opposed to crops in the east - it's the opposite here."
Mr Slade said if it was too hard to run sheep due to seasonal conditions and hard to source labour, it was a no-brainer for producers to switch to cropping - especially in the Wheatbelt.
He said a Jerramungup farmer destocked recently and switched to total cropping.
Former WAFarmers president Tony York, Tammin, said he recently sold some wether lambs to Eastern States feedlotters after there was a delay in the live export trade, partly due to the twin-tier exemption that Rural Export and Trading WA had to work through.
The prices were comparable with what live exporters would have paid.
Mr York said despite having a fairly dry season last year he managed to "hang onto our core flock".
He also sold some three-year-old surplus ewes in November which "all went east".
PGA president Tony Seabrook said he was "loving" seeing the demand for WA sheep so strong.