Sheep numbers were down, but there was keen interest in bidding at the Hawarden Ewe Fair on Friday.

About 12,000 ewes and 20 flock rams went on the hammer, a far cry from recent years when sales topped 20,000 and were spread over two days.

But the day started strongly with pen one, a line-up of 117 two-tooth Corriedale ewes entered by Bel-Hamed Farm from Waipara, selling for $262.

Greta Valley farmers Andrea Young and Roger Marsh were keen to buy some sheep to build up their stock numbers.Photo / David Hill
Greta Valley farmers Andrea Young and Roger Marsh were keen to buy some sheep to build up their stock numbers.Photo / David Hill

The day's top price of $281 went to a pen of half-bred two-tooth ewes from Benmore farm, near Ward, Marlborough.

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While the prices fell short of the top price of $324 paid at the Temuka Ewe Fair earlier this month, PGG Wrightson livestock representative Kevin Rowe said he believed the average price paid at Hawarden would be one of the highest ever.

Hazlett auctioneer Ed Marfell gets proceedings under way at the Hawarden Ewe Fair on Friday. Photo / David Hill
Hazlett auctioneer Ed Marfell gets proceedings under way at the Hawarden Ewe Fair on Friday. Photo / David Hill

''There was a very good buying gallery and they [were] there right to the end. Normally it starts to die away towards the end, but they were certainly keen to buy some sheep.''

Most of the younger ewes sold for between $240 and $265, while the older ewes fetched between $180 and $225 and no stock was left unsold.

Peter Walsh and Associates North Canterbury stock agent Allister Orchard said buyers travelled from as far afield as Marlborough and Mid and South Canterbury, while ewes were transported from as far south as Central Otago.

Volunteers from the Hawarden combined churches, including John Forster (left), Hurunui Mayor Winton Dalley, Glenda Churchward, Mayoress Jean Dalley, Carol Ford, Judy McMillan, Brenda Murchison, Jan Sidey and Tracey Pons catered breakfast and lunch. Photo / David Hill
Volunteers from the Hawarden combined churches, including John Forster (left), Hurunui Mayor Winton Dalley, Glenda Churchward, Mayoress Jean Dalley, Carol Ford, Judy McMillan, Brenda Murchison, Jan Sidey and Tracey Pons catered breakfast and lunch. Photo / David Hill

Orchard said the drop in numbers was due to farmers rebuilding their herds after three years of drought and the November 2016 earthquake, strong lamb prices and the favourable growing conditions this season which has seen farmers hang on to their stock for longer.

''It's a good time to be a sheep farmer. They've had their tough times in the last three to four years in North Canterbury, but it's their turn to have some good times now.''

Volunteers from the Hawarden Presbyterian and Anglican churches joined forces to provide a late breakfast and lunch for the hungry stock agents, auctioneers, transport operators, farmers and other visitors.

Hurunui Mayor Winton Dalley said there were about 70 people lining up for breakfast and he expected there would be anywhere between 100 and 200 people coming for lunch.