New England traders have trucked in tens of thousands of sheep from as far as Western Australia, with the cost of stock and transport proving cheaper than buying locally.
According to the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, a record 239,600 sheep and lambs were transferred east from Western Australia in the first two months of 2020.
This was compared with 409,112 across the whole of 2019.
The demand was driven by eastern states' restockers, processors and feedlotters who were competing against local buyers to secure numbers for a short term cashflow opportunity following early 2020 rainfall.
Wallabadah-based producer Martin Gostelow was one of the first clients of Tamworth-based McCulloch Agencies to look across the country for lambs earlier this year.
Since then that company alone has sourced at least 30,000 sheep from Western Australia, Queensland, Victoria, and NSW.
Mr Gostelow runs the 1011 hectare (2500 acre) property, Spring Park Station, alongside his wife Sophia and her parents, John and Bonnie Crowe.
About 202 hectares (500 acres) of that is farming country, currently planted to oats, barley and winter wheat, with the remainder running agistment cattle along with sheep and fat lambs.
The former professional show jumping family began farming in 2016 on a Gresford property before moving to Spring Park Station where they currently trade 4000 lambs at any one time, and about 300 steers when the market is cheaper.
They sold their entire Angus breeder herd in 2017/18 in a bid to keep their operation alive during what Mr Gostelow hailed a one in 200 year drought.
"My approach has been born out of only ever farming in a drought so it's very much been sink or swim from the get go," he said.
"I've been lot feeding and going down that road of doing the sums on feeding barley to lambs and making sure there is a return at the end otherwise it was really just shut the gate and that doesn't really appeal to me because then the environment has beaten you."
Noticing that eastern state lambs were becoming expensive, he combined with McCulloch Agencies and took a "left of field" approach to secure 3500 head from the west costing about $145 (landed) .
This included quality Merino wethers averaging 40 kilograms to crossbred animals including Dorpers.
Mr Gostelow said they had done the sums and hoped to achieve a $40 to $50/head net profit after all costs were factored in.
"The transport cost is somewhere around $35/head including stop overs and feeding from WA," he said.
"Before anything even actually arrives we have got a plan for it in terms of how long we expect it to be on farm, what its weight gain will be in terms of grams per day and the likelihood of where it will end up whether it's TRLX, boutique kill or working with Thomas Foods International who we have got a very good relationship with.
"I would caution people to make sure they have got all of their Is dotted and Ts crossed and go through the whole equation."
The preparation of their lambs is dependent on the season. When there is no rain the assistance of nutritionist Rob Lawrence allows them to lot feed but 300 millimetres of rain since early January has allowed for a green pick and crops.
A successful planting of lucerne last year has been used to run the new sheep with recently planted barley and wheat to help during winter along with oats, before moving more into sub tropicals.
McCulloch Agencies general manager Daniel McCulloch said while both the cattle market and lamb market was running hot, producers could see a more short term cashflow margin in sheep.
"For the feed that we had in front of us there was a margin there to be made out of lambs," he said.
"Definitely a lot more work in lambs but there is probably a higher gross margin on the days you have got them on hand so it's quicker cashflow."