Commercial clients of Woodpark Poll Merinos are reaping the benefits of its dual-purpose focus, with long-term results from the Peter Westblade Memorial Merino Challenge confirming the stud's genetics as the most profitable in the competition.
Combined carcase and fleece data analysis by the convenor of the Peter Westblade wether trial showed that their bloodlines finished on top in terms of value per head over the entire 17-year life of the trial.
In the most recent Peter Westblade Memorial wether trial, which is the largest in Australia, one of the stud's clients, the Mulquiny family from Wooroonook, Vic, were named the most profitable team with their Woodpark Poll-blood sheep.
Their wethers performed well in both the meat and wool components, with their mutton the most valuable in the competition at $17.66 above the average of $164.21/hd.
The overall value of the Mulquiny's flock was $25.64 above the trial average of $233.53/hd (prices based on a two-and-a-half year average).
The Huggins family have a long history of breeding Merino sheep, and have been running their Poll Merino stud for more than 40 years.
Stephen and Carol Huggins currently run about 2000 stud Poll Merino ewes and a self-replacing flock of 5000 commercial ewes across two properties at Hay in the western Riverina of NSW and Balmoral in western Victoria.
"For us, client outcomes are the best indicator of our stud's performance, so the results from the Peter Westblade wether trial are very exciting," Mr Huggins said.
"Our focus is on breeding well-balanced sheep with depth of body, squareness and easy doing-ability on a functional and fertile frame to meet market demand.
"We are producing the type of sheep we would like in our own commercial flock.
"We are breeding a large-framed 75 to 80 kilogram sheep, producing 8.5kg of 18 micron wool, which is unusual for the Riverina."
The family uses data collection, internal and external benchmarking through Sheep Genetics, DNA testing of their flock and client performance to quantify the results of their breeding and selection program.
"We place emphasis on traits including clean fleece weight, micron, growth, muscle and positive fat which is very important in a dry environment, helping with productivity and lamb survival," Mr Huggins said.
"We are also interested in eye muscle shape, which translates to a meaty, well-shaped carcase.
"This year has really brought home how important it is to get a good quantity of high value wool.
"But we can't ever forget about their carcase attributes because that gives you fertility and a reliable, dual-purpose sheep."
We are producing the type of sheep we would like in our own commercial flock. We are breeding a large-framed 75 to 80 kilogram sheep, producing 8.5kg of 18-micron wool, which is unusual for the Riverina.- Stephen Huggins, Woodpark Poll
Rigorous classing of sheep is also carried out with structural soundness and resilience key attributes of the Woodpark Poll flock.
"We have been using performance measurements for about 15 years to help quantify our selection decisions," he said.
"But a visual appraisal still comes first. Every time they are in the yards, they will be assessed."
The Huggins family mostly prefers to naturally mate all their ewes using their own home-bred sires.
Artificial insemination will only be carried out when they are seeking a specific trait or for genetic linkage.
"We are very selective about what we bring into the stud and this strict criteria has given us a very consistent, even type of sheep," he said.
"This is important for our clients. They are looking for the same quality, repeatability and predictability often across a large number of rams."
The Woodpark Poll rams have proven they are adaptable to a range of climates with buyers coming from throughout southern and western NSW, as well as interstate interest from Queensland and high rainfall areas in Victoria.
They currently sell about 600 to 800 rams each year, with 140 offered at their annual sale on September 20.
A selection of grade rams will be available from October onwards.
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