It's a scenario that would have been inconceivable 30 years ago.
One of Australia's most recognised Merino stud breeders being the losing bidder at $165,000 online at auction and subsequently outlaying $150,000 in a private sale negotiation for a haired, meat breed ram.
But that was exactly what played out last week at the Gilmore family's Tattykeel Australian White sale held on-property at Oberon.
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It reinforced how much has changed in Neil Garnett's mindset since his days as principal at Glenroy stud, Gnowangerup, founded by his late father Glen Garnett and later as former owner of iconic South Australian Merino stud, Collinsville.
And it's another chapter in his journey for the past 30 years which has been about breeding the wool off sheep in the quest for a highly fertile, easy care, functional animal for which food, not fibre, is the focus, culminating in the launch of his SheepMaster breed in 2017.
Mr Garnett said last week's purchase, Tattykeel 200163, would be known as Anzac 63, a name symbolising the Australian White's nationality and the importance of New Zealand as an emerging market for SheepMaster.
"Any progressive stud must keep stoking the fire with new genetics so we will mate Anzac 63 to a cross-section of our elite SheepMaster ewes to establish a new Anzac family within our enterprise," Mr Garnett said.
"His progeny will be compared to those from our other SheepMaster families and if they stack up we will continue to establish this family.
"Unfortunately due to COVID we have not been able to see the ram in the flesh but everything about him impresses us including his balance, structure and black pigmentation.
"With the strength of the sale last week (a $5.628 million gross for 398 ram and ewe lots) we saw the Australian sheep industry change forever.
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"This marks an exciting phase for shedding sheep where the whole industry approach is increasingly for an easy care product that does not require shearing, tailing or crutching.
"For one family to produce this number of top quality animals and that sort of sale result is really quite incredible and especially given they have done similar with their Poll Dorset sheep and Angus cattle.
"I thank the Gilmores for making Anzac 63 available and Elders for their effort in this successful outcome."
Speaking on behalf of his family, Tattykeel co-principal James Gilmore said when he learned Mr Garnett was the losing bidder on the top-priced ram they wanted to honour that support and made the unusual move to offer him one of their keeper rams.
"Immediately after the $165,000 ram had been knocked down, I got a three-line text from Neil which said we went hard," Mr Gilmore said.
"I didn't know he was even bidding so it was a surprise.
"The ram is one we have used in a flushing program and have lambs just starting to drop this spring."
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As with all its sale rams, Tattykeel retains 100 per cent semen rights in the 118 kilogram sire, which weighed 110kg at 12 months.
While the $165,000, well above last year's sale top price of $53,000, is a record for Tattykeel, the highest price ever achieved for a ram is a mantle ironically held by Mr Garnett during his reign at Collinsville when he sold Merino sires JC & S 53 for a world record $450,000 and JC & S 20 for $320,000.
Mr Garnett said Anzac 63 was due to arrive in WA on October 17 and would be on display at the SheepMaster National Ram sale to be held at White Dog Lane Farm, Elleker via Albany, WA, on Friday, November 5.
SheepMaster, which he refers to as the small cattle sheep breed and one of the three major Australian origin shedding breeds in the nation along with Australian White and UltraWhite, was derived using eight core breeds being Damara, Dorper, Van Rooy, White Suffolk, Finn, East Friesian, Kojak and UltraWhite.
"With emphasis on type rather than breed or pedigree, the aim was to breed a fully shedding sheep, white in colour, polled, with a strong focus on walking ability, body structure and balance, constitution and self reliance," said Mr Garnett.
"High fertility had to be king along with excellent mothering ability from a large sheep that produced a 45kg bodyweight lamb in the shortest possible time, with each ewe expected to produce the equivalent of its own bodyweight annually in lambs.
"We mate our SheepMasters at eight months of age and get three lambings in two years with the aim of 30 to 40pc twins."
SheepMaster now comprises the nucleus flock run by Mr Garnett and his partner Alison Bannan, in partnership with Brian and Susi Prater who own White Dog Lane Farm, six pillar producers who work with them on on-going breed development and numerous accredited commercial flocks based predominantly in WA and NSW.
Mr Garnett and Ms Bannan also offer a breed consulting service.
Reflecting on his journey since his Merino breeding days Mr Garnett said his move to shedding sheep came about as a result of wool industry woes.
"When Collinsville was put into receivership 30 years ago it was a pretty traumatic time," said Mr Garnett.
"Our biggest client, the USSR collapsed along with the Bank of Adelaide and our revenue dropped by 90 per cent in 12 months."
"The Wool Corporation had collapsed which led to 20 million sheep being shot to reduce wool production and we went from selling 3000 ewes in our annual sale for $600 a head to barely $6."
Forced to rethink and reassess Mr Garnett recalled haired sheep he had seen on a trip to Namibia which sparked a fascination for shedding sheep.
"At the time most meat breeds sheep were bound up with too much muscle, had bad feet and couldn't walk distances, which contributed to fertility issues so I set about formulating something suited to Australian conditions which also provided a superior meat product," he said.
"It had to have good constitution, be easy care and profitable enough for producers to choose it over other agricultural land use options."
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