Sheep move in big numbers from west to east

Sheep move in big numbers from west to east

Sascha Squiers, with daughter Zarah, Quairading, WA, sold 600 Merino ewes to NSW for the first time ever.

Sascha Squiers, with daughter Zarah, Quairading, WA, sold 600 Merino ewes to NSW for the first time ever.


Vast amounts of sheep are being sold from the west of the country to the east and the trend is showing no signs of slowing down.


Vast amounts of sheep are being sold from the west of the country to the east and the trend is showing no signs of slowing down.

Since August last year there has been about 800,000 head sold from Western Australia into the eastern states, with the majority being lambs.

In January, 27,050 head were sent east, followed by 212,550 in February and just over 274,000 sheep and lambs in March.

Livestock Collective director and Corrigin, WA, farmer Steven Bolt sold lambs to South Australia in December last year and has been assessing the impact the mass selling has had on the WA sheep flock.

Mr Bolt said there had been a pretty severe decline in WA's ewe flock over the last 10 years due to poor seasonal conditions.

"We saw a lot of sheep exit the state back in 2011, when a big number went across to the eastern states," he said.

"And we're seeing that be repeated again now."

He said the current circumstances would further deplete WA's flock.

And there were two big reasons why it was happening.

"Obviously there's been some good rain through a lot of the eastern states, so there's a real appetite to get some sheep back into those areas where there's now feed available," he said.

"Whereas over here, there are a lot of areas that are very water deficient at the moment, and farmers who are looking down the barrel of a fairly late break.

"So they're taking the opportunity with the prices available to offload some surplus sheep."

And the prices being received made the forced selling less difficult.

"It's good that prices are high in this situation so vendors are being rewarded for their good quality sheep," he said.

But he said the long-term impact this would have on WA's sheep and wool industry made it hard to look at the positives.

"It's certainly going to put pressure on the local markets, the local processing markets, or the live export industry, or wool production in the state," he said.

"It's just going to be a real reduction in all of those facets of our industry because we won't have the breeding stock available."

Livestock and Land co-owner Rex Luers, who is based in WA's Central Wheatbelt, said the dry conditions in the west was only one reason farmers were selling sheep across the country.

Mr Luers said some were in good seasonal positions, but simply wanted to take advantage of the prices.

"They are all-time record prices," he said.

"There are some guys who don't need to sell sheep but given what's being paid, have decided to sell to take advantage of this outstanding money."

He said the medium-term impact to WA's situation would be that there were less lambs available for slaughter.

"There'll be reduced supply of trade lambs in WA, and in a market where trade lambs are already in short supply, prices will go up," he said.

"That will help people who've still got lambs, as there'll be increased price for their product, but it will put pressure on the processors buying those lambs for live export or to lotfeed."

Nutrien livestock agent Richard Thomas, who is based at Nyngan, NSW, has helped his local clients purchase stock from WA.

Mr Thomas said the amount of stock his clients were buying from the west was "unprecedented".

"We're in something that we've never seen before, we're coming out of our worst drought and trying to build numbers up," he said.

"Farmers over here are looking for breeders and bigger lines of sheep, but also ewes in lamb as there's a quicker return there."

He said while prices were very high, there were still opportunities for his eastern clients to take advantage when you broke it down on paper.

He said the ability to trade interstate was made easier by thinking outside the box and utilising the wide Nutrien network.

READ MORE: What you should do before restocking after drought, fire

Vendor sends sheep east

Quairading, WA, sheep farmer Sascha Squiers sold about 600 Merino ewe lambs across the country into NSW last week.

The lambs weighed between 38-63 kilograms, averaged 50kg and made $265 a head.

Mr Squiers said he had only recently bought these ewes and had planned on keeping them himself but the drought made it impossible to do so.

"I bought these as an extra line of sheep, hoping for a good start, but we've just got a lack of feed, so I had to get rid of them," he said.

"Where we are, it's terrible, we had 30 millimetres [of rain] in early March, but otherwise no significant rain, just a couple of millimetres here or there.

"And that's pretty normal, we either get a lot of summer rain or none."

So with no rain forecast for the next couple of weeks, he made the decision to put them on the market.

And while it was disappointing, he said there was a silver lining to it.

"We would have got two-thirds of that price if we'd sold them locally," he said.

This was the first time Mr Squiers had sold sheep commercially to NSW, as they would normally go straight to slaughter.

He said the sheep would make good breeding ewes for their NSW buyers.

The third-generation farmer joins about 6500 ewes annually and said after selling off those lambs, he "should be right" moving forward.

He said he was grateful of the support of his agent who helped facilitate the transfer.

Buyer purchases from the west

The buyer of Mr Squiers' sheep was Michael Davis, Brewarrina, NSW, who had battled the driest year on record last year but was finally seeing some decent rain.

Since the start of February, his property has received 220mm of rain.

But when the drought was at its worst, Mr Davis had destocked dramatically.

"We normally lamb out about 5000, but we sold down and ended up with 2200 ewes left," he said.

He said it was a "lot less stressful" when the rain finally came in February, and things were "really good" now.

But his next problem was trying to find affordable sheep to buy.

"Most people in the north and east of NSW have very low numbers, but we wanted to fill a hole with our young ewes given we had really bad lambings the last two years," he said.

He said the last time he bought sheep from WA was four decades ago.

He normally buys locally but buying from the west became his only option.

Mr Davis said the high prices were "definitely an issue".

"And it'll be a bigger issue down the track," he said.

"I think the current wool market and meat market doesn't justify the price of restocker sheep."

But he said he needed to try and generate some income so made the decision to buy in.

"We tried to source young ones to make sure we get 2-3 years out of them," he said.

He said with the new sheep and other sheep he had managed to buy locally, he was at capacity now, with about 3000 head in total.

"We're at capacity financially, we just can't warrant buying anymore," he said.

The story Sheep move in big numbers from west to east first appeared on Farm Online.


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