Canterbury sheep farmers have received a welcomed boost after a challenging few years.

After years of drought and low prices, the sheep industry is ''on a high'', according to local North Canterbury stock agents.

PGG Wrightson Canterbury regional livestock manager Grant Nordstrom described the industry as ''buoyant'' as he looks ahead to the region's largest ewe fairs at Hawarden on January 25 and Sheffield on February 15.

He said the favourable weather conditions this season meant feed was in plentiful supply, creating a demand for capital stock and store lambs.


But the favourable conditions also meant farmers were hanging on to stock for longer.

While entries were still coming in last week, Mr Nordstrom predicted numbers would be down on recent years for the Hawarden Ewe Fair, when numbers have topped 20,000.

PGG Wrightson sheep and beef representative Glenn Peddie said an on-farm sale near Oxford last week saw around 2000 ewes and 3000 lambs go under the hammer.

''It was one of the first offerings of breeding ewes for the season, so it was a bit of an unknown.

''But with the prime market being strong, there was a strong demand on the day and there was probably more people there to buy ewes than lambs.''

He said the lambs sold for between $110 to $175, while the top ewe price was $201 for second-shear Coopworth ewes and mixed age ewes fetched between $150 and $175.

Around 15,000 store lambs were due to go under the hammer at an annual sale at Rakaia Gorge on Friday.

With stage two of the Central Plains Water scheme in full swing, farmers were keen to buy in trading stock to make the most of the extra grass.


''The sheep industry is on a high at the moment,'' Mr Peddie said.

''There is strong demand for lambs and the amount of feed around is having an influence and it's putting a bit of pressure on the market.

''But as long as there's a margin in it for everyone, it's a good thing for the industry.''

While weather conditions had been favourable so far this season, Mr Peddie warned the situation could change.

''The stock need the sun on their backs and before Christmas they weren't getting it, so the lambs have been a bit slow, particularly the prime lambs.

''But to be fair that will change. Canterbury is Canterbury and it will be dry at some stage.''

-By David Hill

Central Rural Life