SECURING the wool industry by learning from the past and looking to the future could not be more relevant today, with only 22 million Merino ewes joined to Merinos in 2018, down from 32m recorded in 1998.
The size of the flock is a key consideration for Egelabra Merino Stud where the focus is on rebuilding Merino numbers by offering an easy care sheep, which suits market requirements according to general manager Cam Munro.
"At Egelabra, we are proud of the genetic depth which comes from 130 years as a closed stud," Mr Munro said.
"This heritage guarantees the predictability and trueness to type and ensures Egelabra sheep will perform consistently across large numbers and in diverse environments."
Cam Munro came to Egelabra, Warren in 1989 as overseer. He was promoted to the management of the Egelabra ram depot at Eenaweena, Warren, in 1993 under the late
Hugh Lydiard, who was general manager until he retired in 1997.
Mr Munro was then promoted to the top position, only the sixth general manager since 1906.
Consistent ownership by the Kater family since the inception of the pastoral enterprise in 1879 has also been critical in the success of the business, ensuring the stud continues to evolve to meet client and market requirements.
Mr Munro said understanding the production environment and how the sheep performed was the key to future prosperity.
"We are striving to breed reliable sheep that offer our clients predictability in breeding and production," he said.
"We don't react to buzz words or the latest trend but nor do we have our heads in the sand.
"Easy care sheep that produce good wool with minimal maintenance are critical to meeting the expectations of both producers and the market."
The consistency expressed through the breeding program also typifies senior management with general managers and classers being carefully trained and selected into roles at Egelabra.
"Smart businesses ensure they have key people around them and our sheep classer Paul Kelly is very important to our operation," Mr Munro said.
"The hub of our business is the Merino ewe. We are concentrating more on breeding predictable, even lines of ewes rather than one or two outstanding animals."
- Rapanui reaps seeds of success
- Game changing Wallah | Video
- Hansen Orchards think beyond tomorrow | Video
To assist in the quest to breed true to type sheep, Egelabra has employed genomics as a direct assessment of the genetic makeup of sheep and ways this can be used to improve the rate of genetic gain.
Mr Munro said the focus was on increasing wool cuts and fertility, while producing a robust and productive animal requiring few inputs. This approach comes under the watchful gaze of Kevin Atkins, who ensures ram and ewe buyers have the best of both traditional and state-of-the-art technologies being applied in the selection process.
Mr Munro said there are few places in Australia where the next generation of sheep breeders and property managers were being trained.
During the past 40 years more than 200 young people have come to work at Egelabra, where they gather experience and develop the wide range of skills that are required for a successful career in agriculture.
In January 2000, Egelabra formalised their training program by implementing an accreditation program with the support of Western Institute of TAFE.
"After two years, the jackaroos may potentially receive a Certificate IV in agriculture," Mr Munro said.
"Investment in our youth is a must. Regardless of whether they take the skills they learn back to their own farms or into the corporate environment, developing a practical, hands-on understanding prior to spreading their wings in business or into further education in agriculture is invaluable.
"We have a waiting list of jackaroos wanting to work here," he said. "Our current team comes from Brisbane, Charleville, Longreach Goondiwindi, Quirindi, Harden, Young and Blackall. They are able to establish networks throughout the country from their time here."
After growing up in western Queensland where his parents managed properties for Australian Estates, Mr Munro studied at the Dalby Agricultural College before entering the jackarooing system at Boonoke at Conargo.
Mr Munro said the entire Egelabra operation revolved around the Merino ewe.
"We want to maintain our ewes averaging 65-70kg liveweight with minimal supplementation and produce an average fleece measuring 20 micron and weighing 7.5kg," he said.
"Our pearly white fleeces with lustre are renowned within the trade and we are proud of their processing performance."
Mr Munro said the beauty of the Merino was its versatility, compared to other sheep breeds or cattle.
"We have the option of selling wethers as lambs or keeping them for woolgrowers," he said.
"We also generate income from cast for age ewes. In dry times like this, the sheep are resourceful and continue to do well, filling bales with wool, when most other livestock have ceased to produce.
When the rain finally comes, Mr Munro predicts a bright future for the Merino.
"If there is one good thing to come out of this drought it is the realisation by many that Merino ewes are where you want to be," he said.
"The wool pays for the feed and, with the right care and attention; there is a lamb and a ewe there at the end of the year along with the wool cheque.
"Merinos have been bred to love dry conditions and with a bit of help, they will more than pay their way."