HORSHAM Regional Livestock Exchange has celebrated its 20 years anniversary.
The saleyards moved from the Horsham city centre to Burnt Creek Industrial Estate in 1999.
It was officially opened on December 1, 1999 with its name changing from the Horsham Saleyards to the Horsham Regional Livestock Exchange.
It is the fourth largest lamb market in Victoria and averages about 500,000 head each year.
Horsham Regional Livestock Exchange manager Paul Christopher has been involved with the livestock exchange for 14 years.
"It's grown since I started; we've seen really good numbers, the highest being 627,000. Just like any other farming business it goes up and down depending on drought," he said.
"A big thing that has changed is people's perception of animal welfare - I believe it's got much better than what it was 20 years ago.
"In the last five years electronic ear-tagging has come to Victoria which has been a challenge. It's hard to know if it's improved operations, but it's important for bio-security reasons."
The livestock exchange celebrated 10 million head through in September 2018. Mr Christopher estimated that it was now up to about 10.5 million.
"Our area is predominantly cropping now, while Hamilton saleyards does something around one million each year," he said.
"We've had some amazing lamb prices this year up to $300. Records were breaking every week for a while there and that was reflective of the national flock which was significantly down.
"We're lucky enough not to be in horrific drought unlike our neighbours in New South Wales."
Ian Crafter's company Atlex Stockyards was awarded the tender for the saleyards project in 1998.
He managed and operated the saleyards for eight years until December 2007 when it was handed over to Horsham Rural City Council.
Mr Crafter grew up on his family's farm at Longerenong.
"Our family bought and sold sheep and cattle through the old saleyards on Darlot Street, so I always had that historical involvement," he said.
"In 1984 my wife Jeanette and I started Atlex Stockyards. In 1998 the council awarded us a contract to design the new saleyards.
"They established a relocation committee which was made up of council staff, councillors and farmer representatives from the Victorian Farmers Federation. We met many times and went on tours to look at other saleyards to get the best of the best.
"We followed the Wagga Wagga sheep yards design and the cattle yards in Wodonga - they were the best of the best at the time."
Atlex was the successful tenderer for the construction of the saleyards at the cost of $3.2 million for the complete build.
"Geoff Handbury loaned the council $400,000 out of his back pocket and that money has now been gifted to the council," he said.
"We started construction in May and finished in November. We built all our yards on the farm at Longerenong; the whole saleyards were built locally by local people.
"It was the most harmonious project that I've ever done. We all had a real sense of purpose and wanted to do the best job we could. I'm very proud of it."
Horsham Rural City councillor and livestock exchange advisory committee chairman David Grimble has been in his role since 2013.
"It is a significant milestone, but it's also business as usual," he said.
"There have been some enormous changes in the industry over the years, especially around animal welfare awareness. It's evolving all the time; it's been there for 20 years and hopefully will be for 20 more.
"There were many benefits of moving it from the city. The previous site didn't allow for expansion and only had the capability of having fortnightly sales."
Horsham council is in the process of assessing the removal of its operations depot from the Horsham CBD.
Cr Grimble said throughput numbers fluctuated annually.
"Some years we've had 400,000 and others we've had 600,000. That makes it difficult from a budgeting perspective as it's all based on throughout," he said.
"We run a fairly lean operation, and by having council ownership we don't need to generate large profits. It's a great facility and significant economic generator for our community.
"There's also a great social aspect to it. There would be up to 150 people out there each week at the sales; it encourages people to get off their farms and talk to their neighbours."
A contract has been awarded for the exchange's roofing project. Horsham council initially budgeted $3.030 million for the project, but the total cost has now risen to $3.692 million.
Ballarat-based company MKM Constructions submitted the cheapest tender at a cost of $3.498 million.
Cr Grimble said work at the site had already started and the project would be completed by the end of 2020.
"The challenge for us will be maintaining it as an operating exchange during the construction period," he said.
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