What a difference 12 months makes.
A year ago Wodonga's feature weaner sales started with everyone's thoughts with those in the Upper Murray under attack from fire and cattle they had earmarked for the sale either killed or badly burnt in the New Year blaze.
The sales at the Northern Victorian Livestock Exchange also opened shrouded in a blanket of thick smoke coupled with oppressive heat.
Under a newlook format of four successive days, prized weaners have sold for more than $700 per head in some cases compared to last year with an estimated combined gross return from the sales of around $13.5 million.
The financial rewards have also come after a year in which producers also had to navigate COVID-19 constraints and border closure frustrations.
The price benchmark achieved this week is unprecedented, according to Michael Unthank, whose family's history with the Wodonga feature sales dates back to when his late father Brian moved to the area more than 50 years ago.
"It's the best one ever," he said.
"We had blokes with good calves in here 12 months ago making $1150 to $1200 and there are calves here this week making $1750 to $1800.
"I reckon we've had a couple of clients who have been involved since this sale started and it is always a big deal for them.
"It's held up from day one right through to today.
"The crowd isn't as big today (Friday), but the buyers here today are genuine buyers.
"The numbers aren't as big as they have been in other years because a lot of people sold prior to and took the money in October-November.
"After a really good season those calves were already at the 330-340 kilos and people were happy to take the $1650-$1700."
Those prepared to be patient were also rewarded.
The positive price trend was set on the opening day when Angus weaner steers surged to $1980 a head, while weaner heifers topped at $1730.
On Wednesday, prices went even higher to $2070 for Angus weaner steers and $1880 for heifers at NVLX before hitting $2250 for a pen of 11-month weaner steers at Wangaratta.
Weaner steers sold to $1980 and heifers $1820 on the opening day of the coloured cattle sale at NVLX on Thursday with a top price of $1970 paid for steers and $1810 for heifers on Friday.
Cookardinia producer David Trethowan, who sold 85 calves on the final day up to $1900 per head, said the difference in 12 months was remarkable.
"We brought cattle in here 12 months ago and you couldn't see the other end of the yards for smoke," he said.
"A lot of our repeat clients came to the sale not knowing if they had been burnt out or if they were going to be burnt out.
"There wasn't much grass around and bugger all water.
"But this year we've got grass, got water and no smoke."
An added feature of this year's sales were the increasing popularity of online selling with 1226 head or 15 per cent of the total yarding across the four days at NVLX sold on StockLive.
"It's been an extremely successful week for us and that couldn't have happened without the staff here at NVLX and the agents," StockLive manager Libby Hufton said.
"They have been so supportive in making sure their vendor information is correct and those buyers online have the ability to see as much as they can about the livestock online.
"The key to that success is the transparency around the information that is available.
"COVID has given online bidding in saleyards a boost.
"It might have been something they wouldn't have thought about for five or six years, but it's on their doorstep now.
"People are trusting it and using it and and know they can buy $50,000 worth of cattle at the click of a button."
Online bids were relayed via iPad to StockLive's Emily Keys positioned closeby the auctioneer as each pen of cattle were sold.
More than 1000 people logged onto StockLive during the four sale days with 124 buyers coming from Victoria, South Australia, NSW and Queensland.
Queenslanders were more active in the Angus market with the majority of cattle sold online being heifers.
New England centres including Barraba, North Star, Gunnedah and Tamworth were some of the areas buyers were logged in from.
Mr Unthank said he was converted to the benefits of online selling.
"COVID kick-started that a fair bit and it's here to stay," he said.
"If we can use that as a format as well as the visual here at the yards, we can have the best of both worlds.
"We've all had good results.
"You've got the gallery looking at the cattle and the (online audience) just keeps the pressure on."
The Wodonga weaner sales were traditionally split over two weeks with Angus first up followed by Herefords other coloured cattle the next week.
But this year, agents, Elders, Paull & Scollard-Nutrien, Corcoran Parker, Peter Ruaro-Rodwells, Brian Unthank Rural and Schubert Boers, settled on four straight days of sales at NVLX plus an additional sale held at Wangaratta.
They went head-to-head with other feature weaner sales held throughout regional Victoria this week, but fortune has favoured the brave in making the change.
"Having it all in the one week is great from a buyer perspective," Albury-Wodonga Stock Agents Association president Peter Ruaro said.
"There were blokes in the crowd who were there for the whole four days.
"There is always trepidation about the unknown and we certainly had concerns from the point of view buyers had other sales they could attend this week.
"But all bases were covered and that was clearly evident.
"It was very good from go to whoa."
Albury-based commission buyer Graeme Ward, who has been working in the beef industry in the border area since the 1960s, said the planets had aligned for farmers with quality cattle in hot demand.
"There is a lot of nervousness about supply at the moment," he said.
"There is going to be a big shortage.
"There might have been a lot of cattle around this week, but there is not next week.
"Looking forward into June, July, August, the numbers could be really scarce."