ABUNDANT supplies of grass and grazing crops in many areas blessed with good early autumn rain have boosted grazier confidence to invest in cattle - but what's the best option?
Lighter weight weaner steers and heifers have been targeted by many restockers simply to eat off the plentiful grass and to grow out to feeder weights or finish throughout the next 12 months.
The buying frenzy during the past few months has forced out processors in several categories and consequently pushed prices to heavenly highs of 690 cents a kilogram (liveweight).
In the first week of March, light steers weighing less than 200 kilograms sold from 469c/kg to 690c/kg through AuctionsPlus. The top money was for Santa Gertrudis-cross EU steers from Consuelo Cattle Company, Rolleston, Queensland, at 5 to 6 months and 158kg.
In the second week of February Bob and Jo Crawford, Windouran, Moulamein, topped AuctionsPlus' largest cattle sale on record with five- to seven-month-old Angus steers, 124kg, making 669c/kg, while their heifers, at 119kg made 613c/kg.
Then in the last week of April, a top price of 669c/kg was achieved with a line of 54 unweaned Sparta-blood Angus steers from Bombala, also 5 to 6 months and weighing 129kg. They went to Bathurst.
Just a fortnight ago, during online auctions site FarmGate's first store and feeder sale, Angus weaner steers, 7 to 8 months, weighing 158kg, sold at 639c/kg to average $1010 a head.
In these past two weeks, restockers have paid from 350c/kg to 625c/kg, including at CTLX Carcoar on May 8, and the top money at Wagga Wagga on Monday of 560c/kg for calves above 80kg, as well as 416c/kg for vealer steers 200-280kg.
Even drought-stricken Cooma agents conducted their best ever store cattle sale last Friday when close to the entire 1500-head yarding was bought by restockers from southern and central regions of the state, and Leongatha, Victoria.
Luke Whitty of Kevin Miller Whitty Lennon and Company, Forbes, said the cattle market had grass fever.
"And when there's grass fever the market goes to heights such as we are currently experiencing where people have crops they need to graze - more feed than they can handle," he said.
"That's obviously pushing weaners to $5 to $6 a kilogram."
He said the industry had seen these peaks before with good autumn starts and big volumes of grass and weaner cattle very expensive.
"And profit margins will more than likely be small on those trades."
However, coming out of three years of drought with herds typically down to around 25 per cent on normal sizes, Mr Whitty feels the shortage will still keep prices firm for the next 12 months, or even two years.
"I don't see the market being flooded because the numbers aren't there."
Nutrien South East region livestock manager, Adam Mountjoy, held a Nutrien "Hume Highway Herd Builder" sale on AuctionsPlus last week, with females offered from central Victoria to southern NSW.
He said interest in the younger, lighter heifers was from northern NSW, while cows, calves and PTIC females attracted competition from Victoria.
"It shows the market dynamic of the north securing young cattle and the joined females staying closer to home.
"I think we're seeing very good returns for our surplus females, heavyweight cows achieving 260-310c/kg, so producers changing over into young PTIC females to calve in the spring can do so at attractive rates.
"I think trading's a pretty attractive option at the moment."
Peter Cabot, Nutrien's livestock manager, Wagga Wagga, said there had been "heaps of blokes going crazy" for stock at the regional yards for the past six weeks.
"The heifer market has gone mad," he said, as calves making 620c/kg at 100-200kg going straight onto crop with the aim of being grown out to 350kg to 500kg before being sold again.
Ray White Rural Gunnedah director and principal selling agent Tim Walsh said the company was buying a couple of loads of cattle each week for various restocking clients.
Everything from steers to heifers and pregnancy tested cattle were among the orders as producers looked to replace what had been sold.
Mr Walsh said their cattle had been sourced online from as far as South Australia and the Gippsland but the majority of backgrounder cattle came from local sales like Tamworth.
Despite the high prices cattle were making he said traders couldn't make any money if they weren't in the game.
"We think the market has got some good prices at the other end," he said.
"We can see forward prices for grass fattened cattle with contracts for delivery in July and August for 680c/kg.
"That's pretty good money. The feeder job is still strong for the blokes that do background a few feeders. This week there is still 420c/kg for 480kg steers. The other end is still strong.
"If you buy the right article at the start it makes it easier at the end."
In just two weeks close to 5000 cattle have gone through Kempsey saleyards and headed thousands of kilometres in opposite directions crossing the borders of two states.
Of those, 3512 were weaners sold in two feature sales with Angus-infused steers attracting an incredible 70c/kg price jump with that centre's highest price paid for a steer at $1558.
"I've never seen those prices ever," said Kempsey stock and station Agent Darcy Argue (who is on our cover).
"If people wanted to sell weaners, now is the time to sell, especially with prices so high,"
On the flip side, Mr Argue said producers were coming off the back of consecutive dry seasons where they had to destock, many completely.
"The number of cattle are scarce and most regions have experienced a particularly good season with plenty of feed about so people are trying to restock," Mr Argue said.
"Producers need cattle to make money and they need to convert that feed into money.
"On the coast the average weaning rate is160kg to 300kg unlike out west where it's much higher.
"So people are taking advantage of the feed to turn them into heavy cattle for the feeder market."