PRODUCING good quality non-mulesed wool is paying off for long-time woolgrowers John and Patrick Coughlan.
The brothers run 2000 ewes, 2000 lambs, 1700 wethers, and about 1000 weaners over 1300 hectares at “Cudal Park”, Cudal.
About half of the red basalt country is cropped with wheat and canola, with the crops adding to the rotational grazing.
The Coughlans have been using Yalgoo rams since 1994, and said they like the Walcha stud’s use of both objective and subjective measurement.
They’ve been growing wool all their lives, and sticking with the industry through the tough years is paying off financially and emotionally.
“You could have done anything else over the past couple of years and you would’ve done better – wool was the last commodity to increase,” John Coughlan said.
“But with anything, if you stay in there long enough, you will see good times.
“Wool has a big role to play in the future – it’s natural, sustainable and biodegradable.”
Mr Coughlan chooses rams based on structure and science.
The family’s breeding objective is to produce a polled, fine wool sheep, cutting seven kilograms of wool at 15-micron, with a bare breech and a growth rate of 45kg at 11 months of age.
He uses the Yalgoo 7/15 index developed by the Nivison family to rank rams.
“I look at all the figures without the rams first, then rams without the figures at the sale,” Mr Coughlan said.
“I rank them on breeding objective, fleece weight, yearling weight and micron, but also on wool qualities, and whether they’re polled or wrinkly.”
Mr Coughlan stopped mulesing 10 years ago and stopped buying horned rams eight years ago.
“That’s why I’m looking for a bare breech, and we look to breed sheep with pleats, not wrinkles – it’s a subtle but critical difference,” he said.
“The only long-term solution to no mulesing is genetics.It was tough at the start, but it’s paid off now because there’s a dead-set premium in the market.”
Mr Coughlan said on average, he received a 200 cent a kilogram premium for his non-mulesed wool, which he sells through Jemalong Wool at Forbes.
“For me, it’s all about trying to grow the best product for the consumer, especially the next generation coming through which is so sensitive to animal welfare and environmental issues.
“Consumers want to know the story now about how it’s produced, so I’ve started to show the story behind wool through Facebook and Instagram.”
Mr Coughlan’s current focus is increasing fleece weight and yearling weight.
“Now that I’ve got to where I want with micron, I’m working on fleece weight,” he said.
“At the moment the adults are cutting 4.7kg at 16-micron, but I’m aiming to get to 7kg.
“Our micron ranges from 16.1 for the two-year-olds to 16.5 for the young sheep, so we’re looking to buy 14-micron hogget rams.
“The great thing about the Yalgoo index is the micron will look after itself, and you can focus on fleece weight.”
Wool style – a bright, white, soft wool – is still just as important when selecting rams.
“For the consumer, feel is the most important thing for them when they walk into a shop, so I place the feel of the wool as a very high priority.
“I think if you’ve got a super-soft raw fibre it can make a super-soft garment.”
Ewes are joined in March, with 120 artificially inseminated to breed rams for the flock.
“I buy about two or three rams at Yalgoo each year to run alongside our own rams as a benchmark,” Mr Coughlan said.
Crops are grazed during winter, with the stubble grazed in winter.
The sheep are rotated between crops and improved pastures, with a mix of lucerne, fescue, subclover, wheat and canola.
“We single super most years because our philosophy is that pastures are the cheapest form or feed, and we’re trying to contain costs all the time.”
The lambs are classed at shearing at nine months of age, with micron and fleece weight recorded.
About half are retained, with cull lambs sold over AuctionsPlus, either as breeders or meat sheep.
“At the moment they'll weigh about 40kg, but they've got to be about 45kg liveweight to get the maximum meat value,” Mr Coughlan said.
“We graze the canola and wheat with lambs before sale to get them as heavy as possible.”
Lambs are usually on crop for six to eight weeks, which allows better production from the improved pastures.
“We've selected three enterprises that complement each other," Mr Coughlan said.
“Having crops means I can rest pastures, plus I've got more feed through the winter, and stubble over summer.
“Most stock are on stubble over summer to give the pastures a break, and that's like a drench for them too, so I don't need to worry about worm traits at all when buying rams.”