‘Super-sized’ ewes shunned at Dubbo

Merino ewes in 'moderation' for Dubbo mixed farmers


Sheep
Peter and Angela Schuster, "Benalong", Dubbo, with children, Eliza, 8, and Jessica, 2, and Egelabra-blood Merino ewes and their lambs grazing on dryland lucerne. Picture by RACHAEL WEBB.

Peter and Angela Schuster, "Benalong", Dubbo, with children, Eliza, 8, and Jessica, 2, and Egelabra-blood Merino ewes and their lambs grazing on dryland lucerne. Picture by RACHAEL WEBB.

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Egelabra-blood ewes are playing a key role in David and Angela Schuster's diversified irrigation and dryland farming business near Dubbo.

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Dubbo mixed farmer and agricultural consultant, Peter Schuster, isn’t a fan of super-sized Merino ewes.

“I like a moderate sheep, a 60kg mature ewe as you can run more of them, have greater management flexibility and you can generate more wool per hectare than you can with an animal that might be 100kg,” he said.

Mr Schuster said larger ewes can “eat you out of house and home” and created management problems including workplace health and safety issues.

“Shearers generally don’t like shearing them,” he said.

Mr Schuster manages his family’s diversified dryland and irrigation farming business across 1000ha based at “Benalong” on the Macquarie river south of Dubbo and is actively involved with his parents’ nearby livestock enterprise on 2000ha “Hyandra”.

His father, David, started breeding Egelabra-blood Merino sheep about 30 years ago and is now running a self-replacing flock of about 1500 ewes.

Mr Schuster buys his father’s cast-for-age ewes each year which he joins to Border Leicesters with the first-cross ewes sold on AuctionsPlus and the wethers sold into the lamb market.

For the past 15 years the Schusters have been focused on breeding a plainer-bodied sheep in response to the need to move away from mulesing. “In fact, for the past two years we haven’t mulesed,” he said.

The Schusters buy between two and six rams at the Egelabra stud’s annual production sale at Warren.

“We look for the plainer type ram without a highly developed apron (big neck) as this is a good indicator of breech wrinkle,” Mr Schuster said.

They have also been pushing to maintain fleece weights on their plainer-bodied sheep, working with their sheep classer, Paul Kelly, who also classes at Egelabra.

Mr Schuster also has strong links to Egelabra which began when he worked as the stud’s head jackaroo for 18 months in the late 1990s after completing a wool and pastoral science degree at the University of NSW.

These days Mr Schuster mixes farming and consulting with Australian Wool Innovation and Meat and Livestock Australia among his company’s clients.

Egelabra-blood ewes running on dryland lucerne at the Schuster family's "Benalang" at Dubbo.

Egelabra-blood ewes running on dryland lucerne at the Schuster family's "Benalang" at Dubbo.

“We use some of the tools AWI and MLA make available to producers. We are quite excited by some of the  research going on (at AWI), particularly the Merino Lifetime Productivity Project.

“The MLP is collecting a vast amount of lifetime data that will help us better understand and improve the lifetime productivity of Merino sheep.”

“I believe that a combination of objective measurement and visual assessment are required to optimise the productivity and profitability of our sheep and breeding program.

“The MLP promises to help us better understand what to measure and when, using both objective and visual techniques, to select the sheep that will add the most value to our business throughout their lifetime – we can’t afford to carry sheep that look good as hoggets but become less productive with age,” Mr Schuster said.

The Egelabra sheep and the stud’s after-sales service tick all the boxes for Mr Schuster. The ewes are the ideal size for him at 60 to 70kg, they produce six to seven kilograms of white, bright wool, are good mothers and handle a wide range of environments.

“From my experience, Egelabra sheep with their bright, white wool are far less inclined to body strike than some of the more yolky, less stylish wool-type sheep that you tend to see these days.

“Another strong advantage to Egelabra sheep is their trueness to type, having been a closed stud for more than 120 years. This means that when you are breeding the type of sheep you like, the progeny become highly repeatable without the high degree of variation that can be seen through some other breeding programs,” he said.

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