Southern livestock producers with feed and the luxury of options are looking to snap up some northern bargains as the great herd and flock sell-off continues.
Hugh and Wendy Begg have joined the growing number of producers to completely destock after offloading their entire flock on AuctionsPlus in the past week.
The couple own two properties covering 5260 hectares in the Texas district on the Queensland-NSW border including the historic Glenlyon Station which fronts Glenlyon Dam, 35 kilometres east of Texas.
Their operation also includes an irrigation block on the Dumaresq River where they usually grow lucerne to finish their lambs.
But with very little run in the river in the past 14 months and a rolling 12-month rainfall average of less than 250mm (10 inches), the Beggs have been forced to concede.
"We are out of feed, out of water and out of time," Mr Begg said.
The Beggs usually run 10,000 ewes across the two places and have been using White Suffolk rams as a terminal sire over Merino ewes and first cross Merino White Suffolk ewes.
They sold the lighter portion of the scanned in lamb ewes last Friday with the entire line of 2856 ewes averaging $160/head.
The second portion, which had been on better feed, sold in Tuesday's sale.
The 2083 scanned in lamb ewes aged up to 3.8 years averaged $170 while 640 maiden ewes, also in lamb, averaged $176.
The dry ewes were sold direct to Thomas Foods International at Tamworth, with one small mob retained to put more weight into before they are also offloaded.
Mr Begg said he was facing a shortage of stock water and pasture and made a "conscious decision" not to feed for another year.
"We had very little rain in that area during the summer when we traditionally get our rain," he said.
"We've had Glenlyon for 14 years and in the past three years things have just gotten drier and drier to the point where we have had no real run-off and are out of feed."
Southern NSW cropper and sheep trader, Dave Chamberlain, was among several buyers from NSW, Victoria and South Australia to secure ewes in the sale.
Mr Chamberlain, from Coursing Park, Downside, 25km north of Wagga Wagga, had just taken delivery of his 1000 ewes when he spoke to ACM Ag Publishing and said they appeared to handle the 950km journey well.
He said the ewes would graze on lucerne and clover, but he was unsure how long he would hold them.
"We might lamb them down but it will depend how we are going for feed," he said.
"If we can't cut paddocks for hay we might lamb them out but if we can cut, the ewes will go."
Mr Chamberlain has wheat and barley planted and usually buys in lambs to finish when opportunities arise.
"We haven't been able to source lambs so we thought we'd buy the ewes to fatten up and do a job on," he said.
Mr Chamberlain said he thought the ewes were good value at $160/head.
"I think people down here don't want to risk the freight (from southern Queensland) but it's not a big deal to me," he said.
Tyler Pendergast, Wagga Regional Livestock, helped broker the deal after the ewes were passed in.
He agreed they were good buying, noting some southern buyers might not have been keen on the Merino White Suffolk cross and the freight costs.
"But with freight, the dearest part is loading and distance doesn't matter so much once they are on the road," he said.
"It cost us roughly $10/head to land them. And they are young too so we thought they were a good option."
Money in dust
Inverell livestock agent Will Claridge, CL Squires and Co, performed the assessment on the Begg's ewes and said many producers in his district were in a similar position.
But he said most who had been forced to offload stock were grateful there was at least an outlet in southern NSW, Victoria and even South Australia.
"The dry has been particularly tough locally with high numbers of stock hitting local markets creating an over supply," he said.
"Without demand for this over supply prices would traditionally be at record lows, however there has been a saviour and an opportunity to explore new supply chains with new relationships building daily.
"These opportunities have offered premiums to our clients that far exceed local competition."
Out of options
Back at Glenlyon, Mr Begg is preparing to "mothball" the operation until the season turns around.
"We've been using a water truck to cart water out of Glenlyon Dam to utilise feed in other paddocks," he said.
"We have a full 12km frontage to the dam, but it's at about six or seven per cent and the main body that is left is right at the bottom of our place.
"We bought in cotton seed last year and used hay to supplement the sheep but the cost of feed is horrendous now and you can quickly exceed the value of the stock."
Mr Begg, who runs a construction business from nearby Toowoomba, said he and his farm manager had been planning the sale since shearing and joining in April.
"It is an easier decision for me - I don't have the emotional attachment as some do. I haven't spent 40 or 50 years working on the genetics," he said.
Mr Begg said staff would be made redundant once the last of the flock was sold.
"Unfortunately we've had some of them for the 14 years and they are terrific guys. But no sheep means no income."
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