THE wool market crash of the early 1990s caused producers across the country to re-evaluate their operations, none more so than New England grazier Clarrie Doyle.
After nearly two decades of working as a wool classer and manager, the Mungindi native decided to set down roots in one of the state's most prominent Merino breeding regions.
However, after experiencing the tough times first hand, Mr Doyle saw the writing on the wall when it came to wool-bred sheep and decided to follow a different path.
He wanted to breed a Merino that would have more of an emphasis on meat production, while not completely sacrificing its wool productivity, as well as a sheep that could thrive in New England's cold climate and the heat of north western NSW.
It's taken more than 20 years of trial and error on his Bendemeer property, Danbury, but Mr Doyle believes he has found the right balance with his current flock of about 1200 head.
"I started breeding them in about 1998 and I was one of about 12 breeders Australia-wide, who were doing it at the time, since then though, everyone has gone their own ways and I may be one of the last, if not the last breeder left," Mr Doyle told The Land.
"I wanted to see if there was an option to have a Merino that could still offer up quality wool, while still mostly being predominantly a meat sheep.
"For me, I really wanted to see the Merino industry forge ahead and I wanted to explore whether this could be an option and I think it most certainly is a viable option."
Mr Doyle, who has worked in the sheep industry all of his life across both NSW and Queensland, said he had been very particular about which bloodlines to base his herd off and that "it's all about selection".
"These sheep come from a Haddon Rig base and the whole lot of them have a wrinkle score of one," he said. "We started with a bit of SRS bloodlines, then to a Rambouillet, then a composite ram and onto an outcross of White Suffolk as well as a small percentage of White Dorper in them as well, to help get that toughness.
"It's taken a long time to get them to this point and selection plays a key part in that, if something doesn't quite fit in then we will just look to cull it.
'"We have had sheep go to places like Weemelah, in north-western NSW, to Queensland like Millmerrin and Eulo, while some have gone down to the Eyre Peninsula, which means we try and breed a mobile, adaptable sheep that can thrive not only in the cold New England, but in much warmer places as well."
As the flock's wool continued to improve throughout the years, Mr Doyle said it had opened up other commercial opportunities, while the breed's easy care, also offered savings to the bottom line of the operation, which also includes some cattle.
"Shearers are really hard to come by these days and I'm really lucky I have a solid shearing team that's been with me for years and I think that's because the sheep are easy to handle and the team knows what to expect," he said.
"I also don't have to use chemical on these sheep and our fly rate even this year, where it is very prevalent, is still only at 0.5 per cent.
"The ewes we have now grow between 12 and 15mm a per month, while the maidens at six months, cut 76mm at 18 micron, as well as an average comfort factor of 99.82.
"On top of that, we have been selling lambs to Westdale Family Meats in Tamworth and the two-tooth lamb is a beautiful tasting meat. If you look at your bottom line and what you make per acre, I think these are pretty profitable compared to a lot of other options."
Jemalong Wool regional manager Tim Drury, Tamworth, said that while it was difficult for dual-purpose sheep breeders "to get everything 100pc where you want it", Mr Doyle's herd was of a high quality.
"Clarrie has got his wool into a very good position and this year was a really good test for it with all the long grass and the heavy rainfall we've had," Mr Drury said.
"Despite all of those challenges, it has kept a very good colour and the cut per head has been very good too."
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