ALLAN Ball, "Harnham Grove", Uralla, has been using New England rams for the past 40 years.
His operation has scaled back – at its peak Mr Ball had almost 10,000 head, including 3000 ewes – but he’s still got a strong focus on wool quality, and to grow the best wool, he has sourced sires from the Leo and Judy Blanch at Westvale Merinos, Wollun.
Mr Ball has let the wethers go and now runs about 1310 Merino ewes on 674 hectares, along with 130 breeding cows and their progeny.
While Mr Ball has been a woolgrower for much of his life, the property began as a dairy, with his parents shifting to Merinos after buying country to run dairy replacements, then adding a few sheep.
The flock has since been focused on Westvale genetics.
“They tend to have a slightly bigger frame and still very good wool,” Mr Ball said.
“We’re averaging a bit over 17-micron so Leo has been able to maintain wool quality over the years. We’ve tried a few other studs but we keep coming back to Westvale.”
Mr Ball sold 27 bales – including two bales of crossbred wool – in September, averaging 1633 cents a kilogram.
“The top price was 2266c/kg for the finer wool and it was still only 17-micron, 48 newtons (per kilotex for strength), with a staple length of 85 millimetres and 99.8 per cent comfort factor.”
Buying bigger framed rams has also paid off with the mutton market.
“When you're finished with them you get more for the bigger framed sheep and the mutton is selling really well,” Mr Ball said.
“We also had our wether lambs go through the Tamworth saleyards, and 116 of them averaged $137 a head, going to Thomas Foods. I think Thomas Foods and Fletchers have done a big service to the wool industry because prior to them, you couldn’t give the meat away.”
Mr Ball keep most of his ewe lambs, culling on frame and excessive wrinkle, and joins cull ewes to a White Suffolk ram.
Ewes are mainly on native grasses and are only supplemented in a drought.
“We’re on fine granite country and have an extensive super history – that’s where I get the weight in the lambs,” he said.
“They’re also on an improved pasture, a clover and fescue mix.”
While he doesn’t have a set rotation, he moves stock when needed, which helps with pastures but also worm issues.
“We’re also not overstocked so we don't have as much trouble with worms.”
Sticking with a few Merino sheep has paid off for Mr Ball.
“The stars have aligned this year with the wool market as well as lamb and mutton.”