This article is sponsored content for Hazeldean.
An ability to identify their top performing genetics that will grow big quantities of fine micron wool on a fast growing animal of moderate mature body size is giving Hazeldean Merinos the edge when it comes to supplying industry with superior sires for high-returning, commercially-functional sheep enterprises.
For more than 60 years, the renowned Cooma-based stud has been collecting data, benchmarking and breeding based on objective measurements for key wool and - more recently - sheepmeat profit-driving traits.
Its genetic progress during the past decade has led to a drop in average breeding flock wool fibre diameter of 1.9-micron and a 20.4 per cent increase in clean fleece weights.
Rams, ewes and wethers from Hazeldean Merinos have been independently assessed more than sheep from any other stud in Australia through: sire evaluation programs; clients entering ewe and wether trials; and other flock and bloodline comparisons.
This has underpinned the stud's ability to develop one of Australia's most influential and progressive flocks.
Using programs such as sire evaluations, we can be confident in the performance of our rams for commercial growers because the benchmarking trials take place on one farm, in the same conditions, for all sheep.
Its success was highlighted in the most recent results from the Australian Merino Sire Evaluation Association and MerinoLink Limited 'Standard Sire Evaluation Within Flock Analysis' at the Ravenswood site, in Yass NSW.
This was a post-weaning assessment of the 2019 drop progeny from 15 of some of the state's top rams, including three link rams.
In the trials, which have been running for three years, Hazeldean Maverick (000113) has been a top performer at Ravenswood - and other linked sites - across all years for combined measured and visual traits.
Progeny from this sire in 2019 in the Ravenswood environment achieved the highest average greasy fleece weight - at 3.4 kilograms per head - and clean fleece weight - at 2.1kg/head. This group also had the lowest fibre diameter at 15.3-micron.
On the MerinoSelect indexes, the ram's progeny group was the trait leader for all three of the key Merino, Fibre and Wool Production Plus values. These incorporate fleece weight, fibre diameter, body weight, staple strength and worm egg count.
Hazeldean Merinos has been owned and operated by the Litchfield family for six generations, with Jim and Libby Litchfield - and their daughter Bea and her husband Ed Bradley - currently at the helm.
Bea Litchfield said the use of objective measurements across many years had enabled them to fine-tune breeding stock to produce highly productive and profitable progeny that thrived in most environments across Australia.
"Using programs such as sire evaluations, we can be confident in the performance of our rams for commercial growers because the benchmarking takes place on one farm, in the same conditions, for all sheep," she said.
"It is a level playing field and the genetics do the talking.
"And the extensive performance recording and analysis that we do ensures we can make fast genetic gains in the directions we want to go."
Sheep producers around the nation will be able to access genetics from the high performance Hazeldean Maverick ram through his sons that will be offered by private selection and at the stud's 2020-21 sales. These are scheduled for:
- Riverina Ram Sale on October 15 - with 120 rams;
- Monaro Ram Sale on October 29 - with 230 rams; and
- Best of the Best Rams sale on January 17 - with 30 of the top performing rams.
Ms Litchfield said all rams on offer from Hazeldean Merinos were bred to provide opportunities for growers to genetically advance their own flocks for wool cut, fine fibre diameter, plain bodies, good growth, fertility and excellent constitution.
"Our breeding objectives have always focused on getting a strong balance between performance data and functionality," she said.
"This is directly driven in response to the needs of our commercial wool and sheep producing clients, who have a range of management and marketing objectives."
Hazeldean Merinos runs its own commercial sheep flock of 9000 head and these sheep are tracking at an average wool fibre diameter of 18.5-micron and cut per head of 7.5kg.
"Running a large-scale commercial flock allows us to test our genetics and validate the performance of our breeding program, which is critical," Ms Litchfield said.
"The Monaro is an excellent environment for seedstock production, as its seasonal challenges complement our breeding selections and allow the most fit-for-purpose animals to rise to the top."
The use of DNA testing for sire and ewe verification, and emerging genomic testing, are going to be integral technologies for the stud to continue its genetic improvements in the future, according to Ms Litchfield.
"We plan to keep developing our genetics to share with clients to improve their profitability and productivity," she said.
For the past 30 years, Springvale producers Tony Hill and his son Alex have been using Hazeldean Merinos for their self-replacing flock of 6000 Merino ewes - and appreciate the stud's commercial focus.
With assistance from their sheep classer Jason Southwell, of McMichael and Associates - based in Bathurst, NSW - the Hills use a combination of visual and objective measurements to select their annual draft of Hazeldean Merinos rams.
This is focused on securing sires that will breed a heavy-cutting, plain-bodied, productive sheep with soft, white and well-nourished wool.
The Hills' flock currently averages 19-micron in wool fibre diameter and wool cuts of 7.5kg/head.
"Because we're bringing them off Monaro native pastures to nearly 100 per cent lucerne-based pastures, we also have to have practical and low maintenance sheep," Mr Hill said.
He said in recent years there had also been a selection push on ewe fertility and lamb survival and they had achieved encouraging results - with pregnancy scanning rates of almost 150 per cent in conducive seasons.
During each season, the Hills meet the Litchfields and talk about their flock direction.
"It is exciting to see the next generation involved at the stud - and with DNA testing, genomics and their artificial insemination program, I think their ram quality is going to lift even higher," Mr Hill said.
This sentiment is echoed by Kenilworth growers Stephen and Joanne and Andrew and Zoe Rolfe.
They have been running 14,000 wethers, but recently bought commercial ewes and sires from Hazeldean Merinos in an attempt to give their breeding program a productivity boost.
Rams were selected based on their performance on the Fibre Production Plus index, along with wool cut, yearling greasy fleece weight, micron and structure.
The family's ewes are due to lamb in September and have had excellent pregnancy scanning results, achieving 145 per cent in the older ewes and 138 per cent in the maidens.
Mr Rolfe said a key aim was to have more marketing options from the sheep enterprise, which was focused on performance - underpinned by new technologies to help them record and analyse data.
"We have EID (electronic identification) tags in the ewe lambs and we'll be recording weaning weight, fleece weights, mid-side samples and scanning and lambing data throughout their lifetime," he said.
"We won't be mulesing, and we'll mark them down for wool as well as a way to manage flystrike issue.
"It's an opportunity for us to get some good data which can further help us to make decisions about sire selection and sheep and wool classing."
- This article is advertiser content for Hazeldean
This article is sponsored content for Hazeldean.