Sheep fire sale as farmers battle drought

Desperate NSW farmers are selling their sheep earlier than usual to avoid having to feed them.
Desperate NSW farmers are selling their sheep earlier than usual to avoid having to feed them.

Drought-stricken farmers in NSW are selling tens of thousands of sheep earlier than expected as they battle to get back on their feet.

The strategy may offer short-term relief for some, but its impact will be felt for years after the long dry is over.

Luke Whitty, an agent in Forbes, says he's selling stock at the Central West Livestock Exchange sale yards that really shouldn't be sold for at least another two to three months.

"There are big numbers of sheep coming in based on the severe dry weather," Mr Whitty said from the exchange floor.

"That's bringing in a big mixture of quality."

He said some lambs are fetching high prices while other drought-affected sheep trade for very little as desperate farmers are forced to "draw a line in the sand" and sell what would usually be held for breeding.

Offloading extra livestock helps escape the immediate stress of sourcing expensive hay and fodder from interstate.

But when the drought breaks, graziers will have next to no stock to regenerate their herds, farmer and livestock auctioneer Geoff Rice told AAP.

"Once it rains, it doesn't all get better, it can take a couple of years," he said.

Mr Rice said more than 40,000 sheep were offloaded at the Central West Livestock Exchange sale yards on Tuesday morning, about 10,000 head more than usual.

Most, if not all, will be sent to slaughter, he said.

Mr Rice doesn't expect the sales to slow as farmers prepare for drier weather.

"Decisions are being made as we get closer to September, which is notoriously a warm, windy month," he said.

"Without significant rain, that little bit of green that you see about will burn straight off."

Australian Associated Press