After a successful shift from breeding Prime SAMMs to a focus on low-micron Merino wool production, Clint Ridley, “Kookaburrabong,” Condobolin, is now looking to maximise the wool production potential of his flock.
“Our wool cut is not quite where we want it to be but we are working quickly towards it,” Mr Ridley said.
“This year we cut five kilograms of wool per ewe at 19 micron and we are hoping to achieve about 7.5kg a year.”
Mr Ridley works in partnership with his parents under the business name Kooka Farming, running a flock of 3000 ewes on his 1416ha property, “Kookaburragong”, and his parents 1618ha property next door.
Also helping out on the farm are Mr Ridley’s two young children, Huxley and Reef, and his partner, Sarah Ostenfeld, Condobolin.
Mr Ridley uses rams purchased from Boyd Aveyard, Trundle, principal of the Plevna Merino stud, over his ewes and sets the quality of the Plevna progeny as a benchmark for his own sheep production.
“He is breeding sheep exactly where we want to be,” Mr Ridley said.
“Modern, heavy, straight bodied sheep without too much wrinkle on them.
“And they are achieving that 19-micron wool.”
The ewes are joined in the first week of February at a ratio of one ram to every 50 ewes.
“The ewes are put in for five weeks with the Plevna Merino rams at a two per cent ratio, then Suffolk rams are put in as a backup for another five weeks at 1pc.
“Generally about 92pc of the ewes get in lamb to the Plevna rams, while the Suffolk rams add another 5pc extra,” Mr Ridley said.
Mr Ridley said the flocks conception rates had been down during the past year due to last year’s wet winter.
“Generally speaking we strive to achieve 95pc wet, and this year we were at around 89pc.”
Lambs are dropped in July, directly onto oats or improved pastures.
“We generally have good supplies of feed at that time of the year,” he said.
“A ewe needs the most nutrition when it is lactating, giving both the lamb and the ewe the best chance going towards spring.”
Shearing takes place at the start of May, allowing ewes to lamb down with a lot less wool and weight on them.
The ewes are then dipped directly off shears for lice control and four weeks later are drenched before lambing.
Reaping the Rewards
The change from breeding Prime SAMMs to Merino wool production came after Clint Ridley, “Kookaburragong”, Condobolin, returned to the family farm in 2008 and identified how profits were being limited by a reduced wool cut.
“At the time Dad was running Prime SAMMs. The lambs weren't really making good enough money to make up for the loss of wool cut, so we decided to breed from the SAMMs back to a straight Merino flock,” he said.
The family had worked with Merino sheep on and off throughout the years and shifted from sheep meat markets to take advantage of the high premiums for low-micron wool.
“During the past three or four years the switch has really paid off, with the market being so strong,” he said.
“The operation has moved quite a distance from the animal we were breeding, you can still see some of the Prime SAMMs characteristics in our Merino sheep but the main change has been changing to accessing purely wool markets.”
Mr Ridley now sells his wool at auction at the Yennora selling centre in Sydney.
At the beginning of June he received a price of 1020c/kg (greasy) for his 19.3-micron Merino wool.
Mr Ridley said he brings his wool to market almost immediately after shearing to take advantage of the historically strong prices through May and June.
At the same auction Mr Ridley received 1350c/kg for his 16-micron lamb wool.
He said buyers had been willing to pay a particular premium for low-micron wool this year.
“Micron has really been paying off.”
“Some years it seems micron doesn't make too much difference but this year there are huge premiums being paid for good quality, low-micron wool.”