Sheep farming success in the Mackenzie Country entering uncharted territory

Farming sheep in the Mackenzie Country is certainly nothing new but its success is entering uncharted territory.

Lamb buyers have turned out in record numbers this year. Source: Seven Sharp

Every February, buyers stream into the high country to load up on lambs - this year with record numbers.

Legend has it Scotsman, James Mackenzie, stole a thousand sheep 160 something years ago - and that's where the region got its name from.

And while in the past buyers have come to Mackenzie looking for a steal, this year has been a very different story.

"It's the first time in probably 20 years actually the farmers are finally being rewarded for their sheep, those people have persevered and stuck with it," auctioneer Joe Higgins says.

"There's been a lot of people getting out of it over the past 20 years and the diehards have stuck with it and they're being rewarded for it."

Diehards like Alistair Munro, who helped start this annual auction 24 years ago. It's grown steadily ever since.

"Well I'm 70 years old and I was born here. There's twelve vendors over nine properties," Mr Munro says.

Joe Higgins welcomes 22,000 lambs, stopping at each farm, and auctioneers lots of lambs to a convoy of buyers.

"It could be the biggest in the South Island - I'm not saying it is I don't know. It's certainly the biggest one we have here," he says.

"And we look forward to it every year, it's quite an occasion for us."

It is for farmers too, because on this day they'll make up 90 per cent of their yearly income.

"Like I'd say just this last place here these lambs in front of us, two years ago we'd have been selling them for half that price," one farmer says.

"So they've doubled their income and every place has been the same."

But just as lamb and mint sauce go together, so too does caution and optimism among the farmers.

"In the past what's happened with the sheep industry is we've seen high prices come, 12 months later they've gone back down,"

"As long as they can make enough money to pay the bills and do it again next year. You know there's not many people that would swap places with that."