MOVING to non-mulesed wool production is boosting profitability in Roy Robertson’s operation, despite being based in a high rainfall area east of Armidale.
Mr Robertson runs his wool operation alongside stud and commercial Santa Gertrudis herds, with most of the Merinos – 1600 ewes and 800 wethers plus hoggets – at Kilcoy, north of Wollomombi, and 400 wethers at Wanderriby.
About 400 ewes are joined to Superborder rams, sourced from Linton stud at Walcha.
All Merino rams are purchased from Lach Fulloon’s Cressbrook stud, and the Robertsons, beginning with Roy’s grandfather, were among the stud’s first clients.
“We’ve been using Cressbrook rams since the 1950s, with my grandfather and father buying them,” Mr Robertson said.
“We’re in a wetter climate and we need sheep bred for our climate. Western-bred sheep don't handle the rain and wetter country as well as the Cressbrook sheep.”
For that reason, worm egg count (WEC) is a huge priority during ram selection along with clean fleece weight.
“We only buy rams that are minus in WEC and we feel that we're making a difference.
“We have a problem with drench resistance at Kilcoy, so we’re reducing that issue through genetics.”
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The hoggets average about 15-micron, with ewes at 17-micron, yielding around 82 per cent.
Micron isn’t a huge consideration for Mr Robertson, who prefers to select on body frame and staple strength, with fleece weight the biggest priority.
“On average, they’re cutting just under five kilograms a head, but we’re trying to increase frame and some of the AI sires sons we’re using are lifting the flock considerably,” he said.
“Our cut per head is about average for the breed and the yearling weight is slightly below, so we’ve got smaller sheep that are probably not eating as much as other sheep, but still cutting at or above breed average and with a significantly finer than average micron.
“But we’re still looking to increase frame size and weight as part of the profit in our business is surplus sheep.”
Our cut per head is above average for the breed and the frame score slightly below, so we’ve got smaller sheep that are probably not eating as much as other sheep, but still cutting at or above breed average.
Mr Robertson said the profitability of Merinos, and increased versatility of wool, had led to his decision to increase numbers.
“We recently did a comparison With 40-odd cows joined for autumn calves, the equivalent DSE (dry sheep equivalent) for those would be about 600 wethers.
“They will get us from $50,000 to $60,000 income a year, but we won't be getting anything from the calves for the first 12 months, until we sell them. Wool's such a terrific product, and they're finding new ways to use it, so demand is there for wool.”
That demand will only continue if the industry responds to market demand for non-mulesed wool, Mr Robertson said.
Mr Robertson’s transition, through improved breeding decisions, has helped him achieve significant premiums.
“We need to declare a ban on mulesing," he said.
"We ceased mulesing a couple of years ago as we have been gradually breeding a plainer type of sheep, without sacrificing wool cut.
“We are part of the SustainaWOOL program from New England Wool, and last year I believe we achieved a 200 cent a kilogram premium since ceasing mulesing.
“We’re getting the feedback from the industry that it's what clients and customers want.
“Flies aren’t an issue, but the big issue is the stain of non-mulesed sheep.
“If you have bare breeches you have less stain, and our shearers are cutting more wool from them with the plainer bodies .”
Ewes are joined at two-tooth, but the best rams go to the proven breeders – the four-tooth and six-tooth ewes – in an elite flock.
Last year Mr Robertson purchased rams from the same sire line, Anderson 120196 from the Anderson stud in Western Australia.
“One of his sons is doing really well in the Merino Lifetime Productivity Project," he said.
”We’ve been looking for that sire line when selecting rams, because at -70 for WEC, he’s very much at the top of the breed.
“Extreme WEC, moderate growth and cut – that's the type of sheep we're after.”