Smart approach to Merinos

No mulesing at Yass

Sheep
Jane and Andrew Harding with a draft of their June-shorn, Glenwood-blood maiden ewes at Yass.

Jane and Andrew Harding with a draft of their June-shorn, Glenwood-blood maiden ewes at Yass.

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The growth of fleece is so astounding the Hardings are considering twice annual shearings.

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A typical bare breech on a Glenwood-bred Merino ram.

A typical bare breech on a Glenwood-bred Merino ram.

June-shorn maiden ewes in the yards at Yanawe, Yass.

June-shorn maiden ewes in the yards at Yanawe, Yass.

Forty years ago the primary focus at Yanawe in Yass for Andrew Harding's parents Alan and Jane was their herd of Hereford cattle, but they always had a small flock of Merinos.

"They were the traditional fine wool sheep typical for this area, but they became too much work for us and we considered selling the lot," Mrs Harding said.

It wasn't until Andrew returned home after 20 years working abroad, in Sydney and in Canberra that Mrs Hardings interest in Merino sheep was revived.

"Andrew was keen and when he took me to an SRS workshop at Cooma and I saw some sheep I liked and when I put my hand into their wool, I knew we had to have them," she said.

With his experience away from the farm, Andrew Harding recognised significant opportunities were available for the right type of Merino producing the style of fleece required by the trade.

"For me the SRS type (soft rolling skin) seemed the way to go," he said.

"I really liked the look and the feel of the wool," he said.

"The sheep are easy care and we have found them to be better doing with terrific growth and muscle."

Mr Harding noted they still have a long way to go before he and his mother are satisfied with the production capabilities of their flock, but they have made enormous gains since using rams bred by Norm Smith at Glenwood, Wellington.

"Norm has been an enormous help with ram selection and ewe classing," Mr Harding said. "It is great to have the support of someone who is so passionate about the Merino and happy to share his knowledge and experience."

Although both Andrew and Jane admit they still have a way to go with reaching their production goals, recent sales of 11 to 12 month lambs indicate they are not far from achieving their ambition.

"We have just sold the complete drop of 500 wether lambs to the trade," Mr Harding said.

"They averaged 54kg liveweight and returned $180 per head.

"Those returns were something we could only dream about five or six years ago when we started using Norm's rams."

The growth of fleece is also astounding the Hardings and they now shear three times in each 24 month period.

"We are growing wool in the 17 to 18 micron range, and the length is incredible," Mrs Harding said.

"Most of our young sheep are now growing at around 10 to 12mm a month and in June our lambs measured 88mm of 16.4 micron at eight to nine months of age."

Shearing three times works well for the Harding operation and because they don't have huge numbers of sheep, the logistics of shearing and lambing are relatively easy to arrange.

"Shearing is not a drama as we only ever shear for about a week and Mick Godber from Schmick Shearing has always been able to provide us with a great shearing team," Mrs Harding said.

"But we do have to crutch sometimes, depending on the season."

Having three shearings in February, October and June also spreads the risk while easing cash flow.

"We have now been managing like this for the past five years and it is working well, but we are considering moving to two shearings per year," Mrs Harding said. "Our wool cuts average around three and half kg for each shearing."

Fertility is one trait they are putting more emphasis on and looking to improve their management to increase their lamb marking percentages towards the high marking percentages being achieved by some other Glenwood clients.

One aspect of breeding the SRS type of Merino with their bare breeches is the non-necessity to mulse.

"I've never liked doing it, although I had done it in the past because I don't like what the flies do," Mrs Harding said. "I won't see my sheep suffer but now that we can breed bare breeches I think it is a good way to go."

Mr Harding added there is less stress on the sheep, and he acknowledges buyers at wool auctions who are looking for sustainable accredited Merino wool.

"Clothing brands are now deliberately searching for non-mulesed wool," he said.

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