A successful Sheffield Ewe Fair on Friday confirms there is some optimism from Canterbury sheep farmers.
The annual fair attracted a strong yarding of 16,000 ewes and record prices, reflecting a resurgence in the sheep industry, stock agents said.
The day's top price was $226 for a pen of two-tooth ewes, well above the top price of $180 paid in recent years.
Two-tooth ewes received between $140 and $226, while mixed-aged ewes received between $140 and $200 and annual draft ewe lambs and five-year-old ewes attracted $130 to $180.
"It's good that there's a resurgence in the industry, with a good lamb price and a good mutton price underpinning the ewe fairs," PGG Wrightson livestock auctioneer Glenn Peddie said.
"It means people can buy ewes with confidence."
He said there had been a change in recent years, with many farmers opting to trade stock, rather than investing in ewes.
"Margins on everything is pretty tight with irrigation and everything, so people are diversifying a bit.
"It's something for traditional dryland farmers to get their heads around — how they can manage it with the extra cost of irrigation."
Retired farmer Roger Taylor, who has farmed in North Canterbury and on the north bank of the Rakaia River, said he had noticed a lot of changes over the years.
"Over the years, running ewes was the only thing we have really made money on, but there's a lot of farmers trading stock nowadays.
"They don't seem to like the work with running ewes.
"Breeding ewes is the way to go, but it doesn't always compete with irrigation."
Mr Taylor said there used to be a lot more ewe fairs.
When he farmed in North Canterbury, there used to be at least two ewe fairs in Amberley and fairs at Hawarden, Culverden and Kaikoura.
Mr Peddie said the Sheffield Ewe Fair was one of just three ewe fairs still operating in Canterbury, with the Hawarden and Temuka fairs already held this summer.
While numbers were well down on last year's recording yarding of 25,000 ewes, which was split over two days, and the 19,000 ewes in 2016, Mr Peddie said the Sheffield yards were overflowing with ewes on Friday.
"We've got a full house today, so we've had to put sheep into satellite yards on neighbouring farms like we did two years ago.
"But at least we're not having to split the sale over two days like we did last year.
"We don't want to potentially disadvantage people who are in the second day of the sale, with less buyers turning up."