Unprecedented export demand for lamb and mutton contributed to unusually high lamb prices at the annual Bendigo first-cross Border Leicester/Merino sale on Friday.
Agents said it was one of the most buoyant sales in Bendigo's history as more than 20,000 sheep, predominately from central Victoria, were sold at auction.
Lamb prices reached a top of $374 a head for a pen of 400 first-cross Melrose ewes from Mathoura, NSW.
McKean McGregor director Alex Collins said it was among the dearest first-cross sheep sales on record across the eastern seaboard.
"From start to finish, the depth of quality in the sheep lends itself to these high prices and everyone that bought sheep walked away happy and we were ecstatic with the result," he said.
"The strength of the sale and the amount of sheep that sold for over $300 a head here was unbelievable and we had very few new lambs, if any, selling below $220."
International demand for protein following the outbreak of the African swine fever is believed to have boosted confidence among lamb producers, with ewe prices tipped to reach the $400 a head mark within a year, agents said.
"Our export markets are exceptionally strong, people are getting great returns for sheep meat and the lambs they produce so these breeding ewes effectively should be worth what we've seen them sell for today," Mr Collins said.
"There's a big part of New South Wales and Queensland that's going to have to re-stock and for that to happen I think we're going to see sheep prices get to unprecedented levels with breeding ewes to make $400."
Ellis Nuttall director Rupert Fawcett, who is president of the Bendigo Stock Agents Association, said competition among restockers was relentless.
"The lamb and mutton job are both strong and everyone has probably been down in their numbers in the last few years so they're just trying to build their numbers back up again," he said.
"We topped the market with Geoff and Dianne Allen's Melrose ewe lambs at $374 ... and the mutton job in particularly is very strong because of the pork disease there in China so the next few years are going to be good for lambs."
The first pen of 200 J & L Cartwright, Bungaree, Raywood April/May 2018 drop ewes sold for $354.
A R McLean, Rushworth, sold 85 April/May 2018 drop first-cross ewes for $334.
JM & PJ Darker, Boort, sold 195 April/May 2019 first-cross lambs for $342.
FP Nevins & Co principal Luke Nevins said the result of last Friday's sale was "something you wish for but don't expect to receive".
"It's one of the strongest sales we've ever seen at this facility and one of the strongest sales I've been involved with," Mr Nevins said.
"It's a very measured response and the strong buying power from Ballarat ... I thought they were exceptional and really were the driving force.
"With global demand for protein reaching new levels, exporters are looking at alternative markets and sheep and lamb are going to be one of them and that is also a contributing factor."
Rodwells Bendigo livestock manager Nick Byrne said the lamb and mutton forecast looked bright.
"Numbers are down and the season in a lot of areas is quite reasonable," he said.
M & B Perryman sold 160 first-cross April 2019 ewe lambs for $352.
Graeme Moore, Strathbogie, sold 130 May 2019 drop ewe lambs for $198.
Meanwhile, MD & DN Cantwell, Rochester, sold 178 first-cross ewes for $284.
J Roberts, Axedale, sold 91 April/May 2018 drop first-cross ewes for $292.