ACHIEVING maximum profitability is the focus for a large fine wool production at Congi Station, Woolbrook, where objective measurement and indexing is used to predict and measure the true value of each animal.
The 10,000-hectare property, owned by TA Field Estates and managed by Anthony Uren, is one of the biggest fine wool merino flocks in the New England, with 15,000 commercial ewes joined to Merinos, as well as about 10,000 wethers and 12,000 weaners.
"We also run a ram multiplier alongside that with a flock of about 530 ewes which we artificially inseminate to breed our own rams," Mr Uren said.
"The property was running wethers from the Riverina and a first-cross enterprise 20 years ago, however the capabilities of the property in producing fine wool alongside beef cattle was deemed a more suitable enterprise mix.
“Initially market signals indicated that we focused on getting micron down, maintaining fleece weight and maintaining body weight and adopted the use of indexing and sourcing semen sires to suit those objectives."
The result is a decrease of 4-microns over the past 12 years, with the adult average decreasing from 21-micron to 16.9-micron and the hoggets now averaging about 14.5-micron.
"We've been able to maintain body weight with just a slight decrease in clean fleece weight, but the overall difference has been net profit per DSE (dry sheep equivalent) which has increased markedly," Mr Uren said.
The evaporation of fine wool premiums has driven a different breeding objective, away from micron reduction towards total fleece value.
"ASBV's (Australian Sheep Breeding Values) and their resultant indexes are an extremely important tool when sourcing semen sires, and we are looking for sires that are negative for micron, positive for fleece weight, body weight and staple strength, and negative for worm egg count," Mr Uren said.
Mr Uren looks to capture the true value of each animal early.
"Every ewe lamb born on the property has the potential to become a ewe in the stud," he said.
"RFID technology allows us to capture huge amounts of data from lots of animals,
so we started capturing fleece weight, micron and body weight data on the entire drop of ewes then we rank the animals from the best to the worst based on that index."
Focusing on economic profit drivers by looking at the total fleece value of an animal has led to a large indexing program.
"We took a drop of ewes which had fleece and body weight data and we applied the gains that an index says we should make in 10 years," Mr Uren said.
"We extrapolated the outcomes of FP+, MP+ DP and the Yalgoo 7/15 indexes for micron, fleece weight and staple strength and applied five-year average values to that.
“Jock Nivison (Yalgoo Merinos, Walcha), developed the Yalgoo 7/15 index and it was by far the most highly correlated index to fleece value, and aligned with our breeding objective.
"Fleece values can range from $30 to $120 so we identify those that are dragging the chain, thus allowing us to retain the most profitable animals. We also class and index the total drop each year to select the best ewes for the stud – we're really selecting on commercial realities rather than the touchy-feely stuff."
Three to four semen sires are added to the Congi Station program each year, and it is crucial they source rams that can handle a high summer rainfall of 780 millimetres annually.
Mr Uren has used Yalgoo and Nerstane rams and the focus is always on fleece value.
"An animal can cut three kilograms of 11-micron wool and have the same profitability as animal cutting 6kg of 17-micron, so looking at traits individually is flawed."
Mr Uren said the entire flock has been indexed for the past five years and it's paying off, with Congi sheep placing first in the DPI Glen Innes wether trial for average fleece value per head.
Congi adopted a ceased mulesing status 10 years ago, and coupled with sustainable management practices has given the team greater market opportunities and the development of direct processor relationships, further adding to the success of their Merino enterprise.
"What we're doing is proving itself with measured success through benchmarking."
Mr Uren carries out two shearings a year, with the general shearing at the end of July and hoggets shorn in early October.
"We shear as one-year-olds and carry out all the fibre testing in shed, collecting fleece weights as they come off the board and using the laser scan machine to collect fibre diameter information.
"By testing in-shed we can also give that micron data to our woolclasser, allowing him to class into micron categories, so we're value adding on the collection of that data."