Plain bodies, high yields, low microns – and under paddock conditions
Liz Rymill visits Quandialla in new south Wales to see first-hand whether the combination of big yields and finer microns on plain-bodied sheep is still a goal or a reality.
Plain-bodied Merinos producing low micron, high yielding fleeces are no longer a distant dream – as one NSW sheep operation is proving.
Trevor and Sarah Ryan own and operate Richmond Merino Stud at Quandialla where their SRS-registered paddock-reared flock is run under commercial conditions.
That means no shedding of rams or hand feeding and recently the Ryans recorded 12-month fleece weights averaging 11.5kg and average fibre diameters of 17.3 micron for eight stud rams.
“Historically, plain-bodied sheep have been lighter cutting but if you get the skins right, this no longer needs to be the case,” Ryan said.
“But we’re proving year after year that our plain-bodied Merino sheep can produce high fleece weights of low diameter wool with high fibre density and length.
“We’re also running our operation under commercial conditions – we never shed our rams or give our stud sheep any special treatment. They aren’t hand-fed unless we are under drought conditions so what a client sees on our property is what he or she can expect to see – and reproduce – on theirs.”
SRS breeding consultant Jim Watts said there was a “remarkable consistency in fleece traits” between the rams, with the best ram producing 13.4kg of 16.8 micron wool and the worst return was a meagre 10.2kg of 17.4 micron wool.
“The fleeces of each ram look identical and are superbly soft and white,” Watts said. He also noted Merino sheep with high Australian Sheep Breeding Values for muscle and fat can still produce high fleece weights of low diameter wool – a perception that has challenged traditional growers.
At Richmond, a combination of ASBVs and visual appraisal is used to drive the flock’s development.
Ryan said that was the only way to go, no matter what you were chasing.
He said he had found that putting pressure on positive ASBVs for fleece weight while still maintaining micron – and visually assessing for wool quality, style, colour and handle – had led them to breeding sheep that had excellent fleece traits without compromise to carcass traits.
And in the current sheep meat market that was a valuable sideline.
“We’ve been breeding this type of sheep for a while now and indeed the SRS Merino has evolved over more than 20 years along these principles,” Ryan said.
“These plain-bodied sheep with their thin skins really produce a lot of benefits for growers, including improved fleece quality and fly resistance, no micron blow-out, little to no fleece rot and wool that is more aligned, leading to softer handling and better processing fleeces.”
According to Ryan his SRS fleeces also “dry out quicker and don’t trap the water like traditional, blocky stapled Merino fleeces”.
He said while many “show ring rams” could probably quote similar figures, achieving those kinds of results under commercial conditions was much more difficult.
“Typically, as the wool cut goes up, so too does the micron … so we’re excited that we’re able to produce low micron fleeces and still record these fleece weights on sheep that are totally free of body wrinkle,” he added.
Richmond began using ASBVs in 2006 and eight years later has collected an extensive amount of data on carcass and fleece traits.
The operation also does full pedigrees for both sire and dam lineage.
“We feel that we’re getting very accurate figures now and we can connect these to the sheep visually – the sheep look like they should,” Ryan said.
“I think that if producers are looking for profitability and productivity, this is the way forward.
“I’ve heard some breeders say ‘you can’t breed off a computer’ and I agree – we’re not doing that but we are using a combination of unbiased objective data and visual appraisal methods that we believe give us ultimate control on the direction of our flock and the opportunity to increase profitability in our operation.”
Trevor and Sarah Ryan Phone: (02) 6347 1166