Buying and selling stud stock in SA’s new normal has silver lining
Around half the on-property ram sales and “almost all” the bull sales in South Australia are now listed on online platforms, says Elders stud stock manager Tom Penna.
While SA hasn’t had the same restrictions Victoria, Mr Penna said AuctionsPlus had become important to retain interstate buyers, even for well-established studs, and a vital marketing tool for emerging breeders.
“Where Victorians have had a really good association with studs here in South Australia, they’ve viewed the videos and they’ve operated online through AuctionsPlus, and that’s worked extremely well,” he said.
“They’ve either done that, or they’ve wandered off and looked for sheep in Victoria, but I’d say 80 to 90 per cent of them have stayed with their South Australian studs.”
Among the volume buyers at White River Merino and Poll Merino’s annual sale on the western upper Eyre Peninsula, Victorians buying via AuctionsPlus helped the stud achieve its total clearance of 187 rams, principal Wes Daniell said.
“We had volume buyers from Victoria who buy a lot of rams, so it was pretty important that it did work well so they could operate,” he said.
White River ram sales normally drew buyers from Victoria, while they also came from NSW “every few years” and the top priced ram of 2018 went to Western Australia. Online sales would only encourage that trend.
“They see a ram they like and, instead of travelling 40 days and 40 nights to get to our place, they can operate online and I think we’re going to see a fair bit more of that in the future,” Mr Daniell said.
JM Livestock consultant Jim Meckiff told an AuctionsPlus-hosted webinar that online purchases already accounted for around 10pc of SA ram sales, with more than 160 stud ram sales booked for the 2020 season by early August.
“Don’t be fooled into thinking on sale day that, because there’s a small crowd, you might be getting a few bargains,” Mr Meckiff said.
“I can assure you there’s going to be a lot of online bidders at all these AuctionsPlus-registered stud sales and, while interstate buyers won’t be present, you may well have a buyer representative there.”
White River had worked harder this year on social media promotion, including putting a video of one of its sires ahead of his appearance at an event this September.
“If it wasn’t for the COVID situation, we perhaps wouldn’t be doing as much on social media and online, but we’ve sort of been forced into it and it’s worked out so far, with thousands of people viewing our page,” Mr Daniell said.
Mr Meckiff said previews that allowed small numbers of buyers to physically inspect the sheep ahead of the sale day were useful in some cases, but visual presentation would be particularly important for breeders this year.
“Buyers are going to be relying on quality photos and video,” Mr Meckiff said.
“For Merinos, that’s going to mean close ups of the wool, close ups of the character, the structure of the wool, features on the face, pigmentation.”
Aside from still photography of the wool, Mr Penna said, it was both more practical and useful, to video rams.
“It’s just so hard to get a decent still shot of a ram because they move around so much,” Mr Penna said.
“On a video, we can actually see the ram move around.
“People want to see it from behind, the side, from the front, and see how it moves.
“In 10 to 15 seconds, you get a really good idea as to what that ram is about.”
A team of five to six people could video and photograph around 250 rams a day, Mr Penna said.
But the White River team had kept it relatively simple, videoing and photographing only the top group of rams beforehand.
Mr Meckiff suggested linking the catalogue with the AuctionsPlus listing and sheep genetics or RamSelect in a spreadsheet and taking a broader look at the offering.
“It’s very important to get the sales team averages, whether it’s a body weight or a fleece weight, because those tell you quite a lot about the individual,” he said.
It was important ram buyers prepared ahead of sale day by being able to articulate breeding objectives to a breeder or agent and have a realistic budget, know their costs of production and the impact of ram purchases.
Mr Meckiff’s preference was to examine the data before the sale or preview, make a visual assessment and ask whether support was available.
“I’d also be asking stud breeders what sort of quality assurance, guarantees or warranties might come with ram purchases this year, certainly for buyers online, if something does turn up that isn’t quite right, that they’ve got a bit of fall back on that,” he said.
Once COVID restrictions ease, Mr Penna expects “the more progressive studs” will continue to use online marketing.
“I think there’s huge upside to expose your stock to a wider audience but then others will say the workload’s too much,” he said.
“Younger ones, especially those within breeds that have a lot of data, will definitely attract other younger people that are very data-savvy with online marketing.”