Merinos still a force

Merinos still a force

Sceptics doubting the role of merinos in Australia’s modern sheep industry have good reason to reconsider their views in the wake of exceptional results achieved by a Wimmera stud.

Wallaloo Park Merinos based at Marnoo has recorded some of its best results since the stud started in 1979.

Stud principal Trent Carter said figures across the board were substantially higher than average and showed that profitability and high success rates were achievable with good management, genetics and nutrition.

“From foetuses scanned we had an 89 per cent survival rate.” Mr Carter said.

“We generally wean around 120-130 and twins around 150-160. This year scanned twin ewes came back at just on 190 per cent of marked lambs and we’ve had two mobs in the 170s,” he said.

The stud’s consultant, Steve Cotton from Dynamic Ag Consulting, said the survival rate was the highest he had seen.

“It was an exceptional result and one which proves what farmers can achieve when all the right elements are in place,” Dr Cotton said.

“It’s really good news for the merino industry.”

Mr Carter and Dr Cotton said a combination of factors had led to the success which sent a strong message to the industry that merinos can be profitable.

The 2500 hectare farm has a base of 2400 breeding ewes.

Mr Carter said the farm had never drifted from its merino base and aimed for a consistent product while improving breeding direction and pushing the boundaries of profitability.

He believes the survival rate success stems to a decision taken in 2001 not to assist with lambing. “We haven’t pulled a lamb on the property since 2011,” Mr Carter said. “You’re interfering with nature; if you pull that lamb and it goes on to breed you’re creating bigger problems.”

The stud uses selective sire selection and individual ewe joinings. “Predictability goes out the window if you start throwing everything into the mix,” Mr Carter said. “We only bring in something that complements what we’ve got while also giving us a positive increase in the traits we’re after.”

Outside sires introduced since 2014 have had a focus on internal fat and muscle.

Mr Carter said Wallaloo Park aimed to capitalise on both wool and meat commodities and had introduced the use of ASBV breeding values in 2011.

On-farm data collection had led to increased monitoring of fleece weights, pregnancy testing, growth rates, the use of pedigree match maker, and scanning for singles or twins and lost foetuses.

“It’s not one specific thing that we’ve changed; it’s a combined process,” Mr Carter said. “We’ve re-fenced a lot of timbered areas, mob sizes are always coming down, we’ve locked paddocks, and we’ve implemented lifetime ewe management principles so every ewe was condition scored and fed accordingly.”

The farm has also used Dr Cotton’s nutritional advice for supplementary feeding, using a mix of hay, grain and minerals in a cost-effective way.

The stud has put genetics across Australia and abroad to varied climates and markets.

“Everyone has different goals and you’ve got to develop a product that can push into 40 inch rainfall or go to eight inch rainfall,” Mr Carter said. “We have a very strong and consistent client base; as a stud you’re only as good as your clients.”

“The results this season have opened our eyes to the potential and what is achievable.”

Dr Cotton said the strong results sent a message to those who had left merinos for other breeds.  “I often have people telling me that Merino ewes can’t count and are only good at rearing one lamb.  Whilst scanning percentage is important, marking and weaning results drive profitability.

“A lot got out of merinos and went into other breeds to improve lamb survival but this highlights what can be achieved with good management, good genetics and good nutrition,” Dr Cotton said.

He said some of the factors leading to the success included scanning for multiples, managing twins appropriately, providing good shelter, making sure ewes are in good condition prior to lambing so they have heavier birthweight lambs, and planning feed resources to supply good nutrition and achieve the best returns.

“It’s been a tough summer but they’ve still achieved exceptional results,” Dr Cotton added.

Featured Image: John Carter, Trent Carter and Steve Cotton

This story was first published in Leading Agriculture magazine.