Ditching woolly ewes for hairy sheep is a bold move that has paid off big time for southern New South Wales farmers Brian and Helen McKelvie. 

The Riverina sheep producers rewrote the record books yesterday when they sold twin bearing ewes for a massive $1210 a head- which is understood to be a new Australian record price for commercial ewes.

The draft of 26 Australian White Tattykeel certified commercial ewes that were pregnant with twin lambs were bred and sold by Brian and Helen McKelvie from Marrar.  “We didn’t expect anything like those prices, given what’s been happening with the price for Australian Whites. I thought they might have got to $1,000 for the tops of them, but to get $1,210 for them is unbelievable and is one of those days I will always remember,” Mr McKelvie said.

Brian and Helen McKelvie from Marrar in the NSW Riverina sold a draft of twin bearing Australian White ewes for $1,210 a head. (Supplied: AuctionsPlus assessor Isaac Hill from Wagga Regional Livestock.)

This is the fourth time since June that this record has been broken, rising $222 from the first record set on June 16.

The ewes sold on the online selling platform AuctionsPlus were just 11 to 13 months old and weighed an average of 60.7 kilograms (live weight). 

Mr McKelvie said favourable weather conditions had helped keep the ewe in good nick during pregnancy. 

“They have been on good mixed pastures, and we grow a lot of forage crops now for the sheep, and we get a lot of good results with that,” he said. 

Three for the price of one

The ewes are set to lamb in October, which means the record price could be considered a good deal for the buyer. 

“I think they were a pretty good buy when you consider their value against the ones we sold with single lamb,” Mr McKelvie said. 

“With the way the Australian Whites are selling the buyer will do okay out of them,” he said. 

The ewes attracted plenty of attention, clearing reserve by $310. 

There were 81 bids placed on the lot by seven different bidders, four from NSW and three from Victoria — with the successful purchaser from Rochester, Victoria.

The McKelvie’s second draft of 30 ewes scanned-in-lamb with singles was not far off the top money, which sold for $1,040 a head to a buyer from Jindera, NSW and received 67 bids.

The price paid for the McKelvie’s ewes eclipsed a record set just a fortnight ago by R and K Greenfields from Bundalong in northern Victoria, who sold 40 pregnant Australian White ewes for $1,015 a head. 

No shearing and ease of management a win

At 80 years of age and farming since he was 15, Mr McKelvie has been running sheep for all his career. 

But just over a decade ago, he decided to move out of breeding cross-bred and Merino sheep and started looking around for a new breed. 

“We could see that a shearer shortage was coming and we just needed to cut back our labour,” Mr McKelvie said. 

That’s when the McKelvie’s came across the Australian Whites breed 11 years ago.

The Australian White is a breed of Australian meat sheep originally developed for Australian conditions and growing rapidly in popularity.

“It’s the ease of management that works for us as they are self-shedding, and we don’t get the fly problems and have to crutch,” Mr McKelvie said. 

“There’s just a lot less maintenance and labour with these sheep compared to the crossbreds and merinos,” he said. 

Grandpa’s shout after claiming Australian record ewe price

When the sheep are selling well, it’s a win for the whole family, as Brian, affectionately known as “Briza” by his grandchildren, has to shout Chinese takeaway for dinner when he has a handy payday with his livestock. 

“If you knew my granddaughters, it’s going to happen more than once now I’m afraid,” Mr McKelvie joked. 

Lucky for them, he has more sheep ready to sell soon. 

“We’ve actually got quite a few younger ewes, they are only ewe lambs around 16 to 20 weeks old now, and we’ll be selling them in the next month to six weeks online again,” Mr McKelvie said. 

Best prices, best season

Mr McKevlvie said it was a great time to be farming. 

“With the high lamb prices and high sheep prices, I didn’t think I would see it this good,” he said. 

“I’ve been farming a long time and these are by best the far I have seen, no doubt.”

As for his crops, Mr McKelvie said they looked terrific. 

“We couldn’t ask for much better, especially following last, which was very good, and this one will probably be just as good,” he said. 

“Something would have to go wrong for it not to be a bumper harvest. We’re in a very good position.”