Harvey the Merino ram finds Jock to make sheep show history + VIDEO

Terry Sim July 19, 2017

Australia’s supreme Merino ram Harvey and breeder Jock MacRae.

NEW South Wales sheep classer Bill Mildren once told Victorian Merino breeder Jock MacRae that the top sheep will find themselves.

After winning the Supreme Merino Exhibit sash with his two year-old ram Harvey at the Australian Sheep and Wool Show at the weekend, Jock firmly believes the ram found him.

Ironically nicknamed ‘Nobody’, over the past 12 months  the ram’s cred in the show ring has gradually grown, but it is the emotional attachment to the ram and what the sheep has meant to him personally that remains at the top of Jock MacRae’s mind.

“I heard that former Rugby League player Andrew Johns’ nickname was ‘Nobody’ because he was considered perfect.

“I thought Nobody (the ram) was perfect, so I called him that originally.”

The passionate 60-year-old stud breeder has been breeding sheep all his life and now has received the highest accolade on Australia’s Merino sheep showing scene with the ram, named after nutritional consultant Peter Harvey from Western Australia, who designed the ram’s diet.

“The family have had the stud – Eilan Donan – since 1923 – it wasn’t registered until about 1945 and it was originally supplying rams for our own (commercial Merino) flock,” Jock said.

In 1980, with his fascination for breeding sheep, Jock could see the stud was one element in the family’s farming enterprise that could have added value.

“I myself probably took the stud from something that was in-house to something that was providing flock rams for a lot of locals.”

The MacRaes had owned the 2200 hectare Elphinstone property Eilan Donan since 1882 until it was sold to Chinese investors in 2015.

Jock started showing in 1991 in Melbourne and in 1995 won a reserve grand champion sash at the Australian Sheep and Wool Show in Melbourne with a ewe called ‘Perfect Lady’. The ewe was “out of the box” and “ahead of her time” with beautiful balance, great presence, magnificent skin with ‘elitish’ wool and great size for her type, Jock said.

“So I had this ewe called Perfect lady and I was feeding her one night and she was just an outstanding animal and Tom Padbury, Tom Harmsworth and Neil McLennan walked down the aisle and were saying what a magnificent sheep she was and I concurred.

“They said well you better enjoy her boy, because you are never going to see another one like her in your lifetime,” Jock said.

“It had been my second year in the ring and I’m thinking how easy is this?”

At that stage, Jock said although most breeders were producing rams for the production of traditional true-to-count ‘Supers’ for the Italian market, he was taking interest in what was called “BBB” lines – bolder crimping wool that was pulled out of shed lines because it was considered to be broader.

“But what I noticed was that they were cutting a whole lot more and were only about 0.2 microns away from our traditional Supers, so we started selecting for those sort of sheep.

“To this day we are still trying to look for a really nice, perhaps bolder crimping, super-soft highly aligned wool with good density and length.”

Then 22 years after Perfect Lady, Jock was going through an exercise after testing of rams for brucellosis for the sale of semen when one test came back ‘inconclusive.’ Another test was done on the ram and it came back as positive, which was worrying.

“To me at the time it felt like the 40 years of breeding was for nought.”

The ram was put down and another test was done, which came back negative, meaning a sheep of value had been killed to prove it didn’t have a disease. It put Jock at another low ebb in January 2016 and he was considering dispersing the stud.

“I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry – a fair bit of soul-searching was going on at that stage.

“And then one day I was feeding the next generation and this sheep just walks out of the mob, stands sideways and looks at me as if to say ‘look at me’,” he said.

“He would have been nine months of age then and he impressed.

“So I got the dog, ran the mob in, grabbed him and had a look at him,” Jock said.

“I thought, oh yeah, this is a pretty good sheep and the more I looked at him, the more I liked him.

“And the one thing I learned about showing, Terry, is that if you really want to have a crack at the top job, you cannot give the judge an excuse to ping him,” he said.

“That’s what really excited me, this sheep that we now call Harvey, he had everything that you were looking for.

“Of all the genes that you were looking to fall into the right place, they seemed liked they all did – I couldn’t fault him and to this day I still ask people to fault him.”

Harvey is a ram very hard to fault

Jock MacRae and Harvey with judges, from left,Wes Daniell, Bevan McKnight, Paul Norris, Kevin Beaton, Sean Ballinger, Ben Wilson and Cam Munro.

Jock said there are probably areas where the sheep could be “a little bit better” and the ram’s fleece was yet to be determined, though he is expecting to be around 14 kilograms.

“So I knew I was in with a chance in the show ring.

“I decided to shear him up for the short wool (in Bendigo) last year and he ended up being reserve junior champion in the show as a fine wool and he lost to an East Mundalla sheep that was 135kg with lamb’s teeth which was an outstanding sheep.”

At Bendigo this year, the 135kg ram sported an 18.6 August-shorn fleece in the fine wool six tooth class to be also sashed Victorian-bred Ram of the Year and defeated the Wurook stud’s fine wool grand champion ewe and Victorian-bred Ewe of the Year.

Jock said Harvey would next compete for the state at the Rabobank National Merino Show and Sale in Dubbo next month. Harvey is out of a Nerstane-blood ewe by One Oak 13004, which topped the 2015 North East Sire Evaluation trial for greasy fleece weight.

Merino judge Wes Daniell said Harvey is an “absolutely outstanding ram that oozes quantity from front to back and top to bottom.”

He said the ram was “beautifully well-woolled down” with long-stapled well-nourished wool, with a striking head, muzzle and horns.

“He stands so well on his feet and has just got such great appeal – a very hard ram to fault and is a sensational ram, well done.”

He found me in that moment

Jock remembered thanking classer Bill Mildren for finding Perfect Lady back in the 1990s.

“He said ‘good sheep find themselves’ and it is absolutely right, the good sheep will find themselves; they will put themselves in front of you.”

“I reckon it is about the dominance, the psyche of the animal, if they are superior,” Jock said.

“When he’s got enough arrogance to come out in front of the mob and say I’m the boss.

“He found me in that moment.”

Peter Harvey’s ration fed the top ram

Nutritionist Peter Harvey, left, inspects the wool on Harvey the Merino ram with Jock MacRae.

Despite being unwell and confined to a wheelchair, Peter Harvey was at the Bendigo show to see his namesake take the main prize in the Merino shed.

“I have absolute respect for Peter, I knew this was a special sheep and I know that Peter’s skill in terms of feeding sheep in the Merino industry is legendary.

“He was nearly in tears when I told him that I had named the sheep after him and of course, he has made a very big effort to be here to watch the judging.”

Jock said the ram’s name suits his cocky arrogant nature and he had been lucky with the people who had helped prepare the sheep, including manager Ed Burbury, shearer Courtney Sutherland and groom Brenda Proctor.

“The thing that thrills me is that it’s not just me and it is not just the farmers, it’s that there are so many other people who are involved in it.

“It might be the local bloke who comes in and feeds when you are away on the weekend,” he said.

“It is a huge commitment keeping sheep in a shed.

“Everybody has become involved because they can see he is a little bit special as well,” Jock said.

“He is a sheep with a lot of character and there is something there that we cannot measure and you can only see by observation – it’s called temperament and intelligence, and awareness and pride.

“You can’t measure those things, but he was born with them and that is just another thing that helps make him a stand-out; he knows within himself that he is superior in the hierarchy of his peers.”


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  1. Peter Small, July 19, 2017

    Congratulations Jock. Your astute observations of wool and breeding characteristics are so relevant; not just for flock productivity, but also for processing and end-garment performance.

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