Woolgrowers in Victoria's east are gearing up for the annual Gippsland ram sale despite one of their most trying years on record.
While some farmers are still cleaning up and repairing damaged infrastructure from the January bushfires, others are dealing with lamb losses as heavy rain and consistent frost sets in.
The adversity of the seasonal conditions, despite a good autumn, coupled with the effects of coronavirus have proved difficult to navigate for woolgrowers like Doug Pemberton, who has properties at Sarsfield and Nicholson.
Three quarters of his 500-hectare property at Sarsfield was destroyed by fire in January, damaging 25 kilometres of fencing and what pasture he had left after three years of drought.
The clean-up bill for an excavator to remove dead and dangerous trees cost $70,000 alone, while the long-term economic impacts are still being felt.
"It's slowed down the growth of our lambs and it caused a break in our wool," Mr Pemberton said.
"It's remarkable we got out of it with only losing one sheep."
As wool prices struggle to recover due to a drop in export demand and the damage caused by coronavirus, Mr Pemberton remains optimistic his ultra fine, non-mulesed Merino wool will sell to strong demand, albeit for much less this year.
"We will get a premium in one way but there will be quite a cost for the break in the wool and that was mainly due to the stress of the fires when they were under pressure," he said.
Mr Pemberton said he planned to offer up to six two-year-old Nicholson River Merino stud rams at September's ram sale.
"Normally we would offer our rams at 12 months but we haven't been able to give our younger rams as much care as we normally would and that's due to the time we spent cleaning up after the fires," he said.
The operation features a strain of early maturing Merinos, allowing Mr Pemberton to capitalise on the lucrative lamb market
Rain knocks stock about at Benambra
In Victoria's high country, Pendarra Merino stud principal Kelvin Pendergast has been dealing with a different kind of problem.
At the peak of lambing, Mr Pendergast lost 219 lambs - or 20 per cent of his lambs for 2020 - after 80 millimetres of rain fell in four days.
"It's been our only hiccup this year," he said.
"Thankfully we weren't affected by the fires, mainly due to the direction of the wind, but sadly we have lost quite a lot of lambs this year."
Mr Pendergast and his wife, Jackie, plan to offer 70 Pendarra rams in September, of which about 55 per cent will be horned while the remaining balance will be offered as polled rams.
In 2019, the stud sold the top-priced ram at the annual ram sale for $5500.
"You just take it as it comes," Mr Pendergast said.
"There's been a lot worse compared to us and in 2005 we lost a lot of lambs due to a big snowfall.
"Even though we lost quite a number at that particular time, we expect our percentage will still be around 100 per cent even though we lost a lot during the rain."
Their mixed operation consists of about 2500 grown sheep, 130 Hereford cows and about 400 fat lambs.
"I expect the clearance rate to be fairly strong in September but I also expect people to be more conservative with how they might spend their money given the situation with wool prices," Mr Pendergast said.
Online buying option for annual ram sale
Prospective buyers looking to purchase rams at this year's Gippsland ram sale will be able to do so from the comfort of their home or office.
For the first time in its history, the sale's organisers have teamed up with AuctionsPlus to offer the full catalogue online.
Elders Bairnsdale district wool manager Mal Nicholls said it would help keep crowds to a minimum during the September 1 sale where about 180 rams will be offered from across East Gippsland.
"After the ram sales at Bendigo and Hamilton were placed on hold due to COVID-19, we decided to hold the inspection days later - a week before the sale - so buyers can inspect the rams much closer to the auction," Mr Nicholls said.
"Lambings have been great and are continuing to be great and while coronavirus has had a dramatic effect on wool prices, producers have been lucky to fall back on the meat price which has risen to new heights."