The major contribution of James Litchfield to Merino sheep and beef cattle breeding was recognised in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours.
Mr Litchfield, now 91 and still living with wife, Barbara, on the family’s famed Hazeldean stud, Cooma, was awarded the Order of Australia Medal (OAM).
While suffering hearing difficulties, his brain is sharp and he continues to take a keen interest in the sheep and cattle industries.
Mr Litchfield was the fourth generation to manage the family’s Hazeldean rural empire begun by his great grandfather, James Litchfield, in 1862.
In 1865 he established the Hazeldean stud with the aim of breeding a strain of sheep suited to the tough Monaro plains.
Angus cattle were added into the Hazeldean mix in 1926 by James’ grandfather, James Francis.
The Litchfields down through the generations have taken an innovative approach to breeding both Merinos and Angus cattle and were pioneers of performance breeding and objective measurement.
It’s a philosophy warmly embraced by James Litchfield and his son, Jim, who now runs the Hazeldean enterprise with wife, Libby.
“I have been mostly interested in measuring genetic differences and finding how to apply that to breeding programs (both Merinos and Angus),” Mr Litchfield senior said.
“I think they have both succeeded (across both industries as a whole), particularly in cattle.
“Nearly all bulls you see sold now have genetic assessment.”
He said adoption had been slower in Merinos because the traditional system of visual appraisal was “fairly well embedded”.
“It’s changing quite quickly now,” he said. “One of the biggest difficulties they had to overcome was making sure the animals they were measuring were on a level playing field so you were seeing real genetic differences in quantity and quality of the wool they produced.
“If you don’t have a level playing field, all the information you put in is of no use. Rubbish in, rubbish out,” he said.
“I think a lot of people got disillusioned because they hadn’t quite grasped the importance of the preparation of the animals you wanted to measure.
“I think there is a better understanding of that now but there is still a long way to go. You only have to look at the results of wether trials, where they do have a level playing field, there is a very big range in returns from the best and worst.”