A SCIENTIFIC, objective approach to ram and ewe selection is helping Bendemeer wool producers Tom and Rachel Rummery increase genetic gains in their flock.
The family got back into woolgrowing about 10 years ago, after a 10-year break from the industry.
”We recognised that our country was well suited to sheep – there’s a lot of conservation country on the property which sheep can get some use of without doing too much damage, and sheep eat the weeds that cattle won’t eat,” Mr Rummery said.
That break from the industry allowed the Rummerys to carefully consider the type of sheep they wanted to breed, and they were very keen to take on objective selection.
The 5700-head flock is run over two properties covering 2600 hectares north of Bendemeer, and the Rummerys also trade cattle, depending on the season.
The Rummerys have been using Yalgoo rams for the past five years. They’re looking for a fine micron and good greasy fleece weight (GFW).
Adult sheep range from 16 to 16.2-micron and young stock range from 14 to 16-micron.
“Jock (Nivison, Yalgoo stud principal) has a very similar approach to wool as we have – he has a very objective, scientific, measured approach to his breeding,” Mr Rummery said.
“I can apply the same scientific rigour using Merino Select and indexes to find rams that will take our production forward.
“Jock's got a strong focus on profitability in wool production, and we use the Yalgoo 7/15 index as the first criterion across all rams, including over rams from other studs. That gives me the first grouping of rams that might fit, then I take those sheep and put them against the FP+ index as well as the FP index, which narrows the number down again.
“Then I take the time to sit down again using Merino Select and go back as far as the grandparents, because I’m looking for a consistently breed ram over multiple generations. Some rams will have the great figures but not the heritage to gain my confidence. Then I’ll move to the physical appearance and appraisal of the ram.”
The focus in the physical appraisal is an easy care sheep, as the Rummerys haven’t mulesed since returning to the industry.
“We’re looking to eliminate excess body wrinkle, wool around the face, and they need a nice plain neck,” Mr Rummery said.
While GFW is one of the main drivers of profitability, along with micron, the Rummerys also focus on staple length as it plays a big part in the wool selling process.
“We shear at 90 millimetres because the market prefers a staple length between 65mm and 90mm,” Mr Rummery said.
“Our sheep grow around 9mm to 10mm each month, depending on the season. We’ll shear at 90mm at eight or nine months, and the fleece will weigh anywhere from 4.2 kilograms for the ewes and 4.5kg to 4.7kg for the wethers.
“We sell our wool from measured samples taken in the shed, so we've got the figures and buyers offer us a price.
“They don't want wool over 90mm and there’s a significant discount at 120mm which is what they grow in 12 months.
“Selling in the shed is more predictable than putting wool up for auction and not knowing what the result will be – I like to control the process of receiving a price.”
That objective approach is also used in classing ewes and wethers to retain in the flock.
“All lambs get electronic ear tags and on their second shearing we measure the fleece weight and micron of every sheep, then run that information through all the indexes,” Mrs Rummery said.
“Then we use that data to cull the bottom 40 per cent based on profitability.”
In every drop, the focus is on finding the least profitable sheep.
“We want to keep the top 60 per cent of every drop,” Mr Rummery said.
“We don't class them as lambs because there are too many variables, for instance, there’s a difference of five weeks in age. We allow everything to be shorn at 11 or 11.5 months and they get another nine months to perform before the next shearing when they're ranked.
“The ear tag technology is very useful when drafting. On the wand, I adjust what I want gone, and what we're selecting for, and the genetic gain in our sheep flock is much faster, because we’re culling ewes that aren't as profitable, then joining high indexing rams to high indexing ewes.”