Merino Annual: Wool testing in testing times

Merino Annual: Wool testing in testing times


Wool tester Janet Bell found herself confined to Tasmania when Victoria was hit by a second wave of COVID-19.


The tyranny of distance is never more pronounced than in times of crisis.

Yet, in such times, good operators get creative.

Wool tester Janet Bell, Countrywide Wool Testing, moved to northern Tasmania more than a year ago and found herself confined to the island when Victoria was hit by a second wave of COVID-19.

Armed with an expensive Optical-based Fibre Diameter Analyser (OFDA 2000) machine, Ms Bell tests wool fibre's micron, staple length, crimp and comfort factor on-farm at shearing time.

The objective data is invaluable as a sheep-classing tool to determine which sheep to cull if they are not coping with seasonal conditions.

Ms Bell was also preparing to test the wool of a 5000-head flock in Tasmania and couldn't afford to pass up the opportunity by travelling to NSW and being quarantined for a few weeks.

Neither did she wish to send the machine by plane on its own. Meanwhile, the wool on southern NSW ultrafine wool grower Neil Carey's flock was nearing shearing time and he needed to get his wool tested to achieve 1PP accreditation again.

His best bales of wool received a 1PP accreditation in September, 2018, and 2019.

"The wool was paddock-grown, coated and micron-tested, shown and classed over a separate two-day shearing, with input from specialist wool classers and wool brokers," said Mr Carey, chairman of the Goulburn/Yass region of the Australian Superfine Wool Growers Association.

"We toiled for 12 months, changing coats and culling sheep to ensure the highest quality paddock-grown wool would be classed into our Kashmir/Yass brand wool sale of 120 or so bales of ultrafine traditional Saxon wool.

"This bale sold to New England Wools along with a large quantity of bales, destination Italy.

"This bale was the second highest auction sale price for the 2018 season (4600 cents a kilogram) and our best price since 1987 in the November Goulburn wool sale - a long time between drinks."

Read the full Merino Annual publication here.

Read the full Merino Annual publication here.

In June this year, according to the AWEX Superfine Wool Report for 2019-20, Kashmir/Yass achieved the highest greasy price, a seasonal record for paddock-grown 1PP-accredited wool.

"Due to the Australian market being what it, is this is a world seasonal record as well," he said.

The 14.2-micron wool sold for 5077c/kg greasy and 6501c/kg clean with a vegetable matter base of 0.1 and a mean staple strength of 37 and a length of 88mm.

Mr Carey produces 5000 head of Hillcreston-blood in a self-replacing flock. About 500 are coated and as the wool was getting longer, they were due to change up a size ahead of shearing.

"If Janet can't bring the machine to me, I'll have to send the samples to her."

Kashmir keeps some of its most pristine wool under wraps

When Wee Jasper woolgrower Neil Carey realised he couldn't have his wool tested in real time due to COVID-19, he decided to send the wool to the tester, Janet Bell, Countrywide Wool Testing, in northern Tasmania.

So, after a dash to Goulburn to buy the paper sample bags, the clipping began.

Mr Carey set up a testing station and race in the yards for a flock of two-tooth sub-14-micron sheep with 11 months of wool under their coats.

He clipped samples of 0.5cm square and bagged and wrote the ear tag number for each one in preparation for testing.

"This would normally have gone to the ODFA operator and it would be a real-time test but COVID-19 has the machine and Janet in Tasmania," Mr Carey said.

He then sent off the first 500 samples by TNT courier in Canberra to Launceston.

"All the coats were later crutched to remove the stain as they are non-mulesed so there is no chance of contamination in the best bale we can produce off paddock-grown sheep," he said.


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