COMMERCIAL wool producers are flocking to Merino studs that offer figures this spring as buyers vote with their wallets on performance recording.
While almost all Merino studs are recording lifts in their prices, some of the nation’s biggest performance-recorded studs have reported a host of new clients as buyers search out genetics with figures.
The biggest single vendor Merino sale in Australia, Kerin Poll at Yeoval, NSW, sold 550 rams at auction late last week for a gross of $1.94 million and an average of $3526. This was up 14 percent on last year’s result.
Kerin Poll principal Nigel Kerin said 15 new buyers secured rams at the sale, and some existing clients were forced to fill their numbers in paddock sales afterwards as competition spiked.
He said savvy producers were looking for sheep which could return the most income on their investment in their asset
“If you are a producer and paying $4000 or $5000 or $6000 an acre for land, and then use the same growth package (genetics) that you have for the past 30 years, it just doesn’t make sense,” Mr Kerin said.
Kerin Poll analyses its sale results each year based on rates paid for various ASBVs, and last year, the operation spent up on rams which had high ASBVs for weaning weight, yearling weight, body weight and yearling fleece weight.
Mr Kerin said he expected this year’s analysis, when completed, would show buyers had been prepared to pay even more for these traits.
“We did see strong competition for a few traits – post weaning weight, fleece weight and breech wrinkle score – there was a lot of interest in breech wrinkle score in our rams this year.”
“The key reason we see so much interest in our sheep is that we have the science to back the rams, and if you have a seed stock producer who is not investing in his business, then it’s probably time to walk away from them.”
COVID impacts push buyers towards figures
Dubbo, NSW-based sheep veterinarian and consultant Tim Gole from For Flocks Sake said he had noticed increased interest from commercial ram buyers looking for Australian Sheep Breeding Values on Merino sires.
“I’ve also been using flock profiles as a tool to help producers select rams but there are definitely more people interested in the figures,” Mr Gole said.
“But COVID (travel restrictions) have also influenced producers’ willingness to look at figures too.”
Trigger Vale Poll Merino stud at Lockhart, NSW, was an early adopter of breeding values and averaged $3369 for 206 rams at its auction last month, up 12pc on 2020.
Principal Andrew Bouffler said his business had a number of new clients who were chasing rams with figures, including traits like breech wrinkle and post weaning weight.
What else was noticeable was an increased willingness to accept figures which told more of a story about a ram’s potential than just its phenotype, Mr Bouffler said.
“I saw at our sale that the average punter was prepared to put more faith in breeding values,” Mr Bouffler said.
“We saw that when we watched how the buyers looked at the main draft of our rams that were 15-16 months and weighed 85-90kg, and then looked at the ram lambs which were 70kg.
“The ram lambs were not as big, but their figures were great, and they were the newest and best genetics – the ram lambs averaged $3900 compared to the older rams that averaged $3300.
“That trend of trust in the figures and not relying on eye only wouldn’t have happened six years ago.”
Mr Bouffler said another interesting trend was the number of seedstock operations that bought at his sale.
Buying and then using rams from Trigger Vale with high accuracy breeding values would allow these studs to tap into the growing demand for rams with figures, he said.
Appetite for rams with ASBVs
Further south, long time performance recorders Glendemar MPM will hold its annual on-property ram sale on October 6, offering 140 rams at Marnoo.
Glendemar MPM principal Ben Duxson said the stud averaged $2800 last year and expected it would be higher this spring.
Mr Duxson said while his stud had been selling rams with ASBVs for 15 years, interest this year had spiked.
“We know that using figures (ASBVs) takes the risk out of it, and like everything, it just another tool to help with selection,” he said.
“But we know sheep selected with ASBVs are giving better results for us and our clients.
“There is certainly an appetite for Merino rams with ASBVs and we are getting calls about specific ASBVs like breech wrinkle.”
Mr Duxson said Glendemar MPM was gradually introducing more and more ASBVs on their sheep, including breech wrinkle, WEC (worm egg count) and would soon include dag score and number of lambs weaned.
The goal was to allow producers to select rams which fit with their breeding objectives.
The travel restrictions around COVID had also forced some producers to embrace figures, Mr Duxson said, and this could continue even when movement was freer.
“Look, most clients still want to get to a sale and eyeball the rams they want to buy – but there is a growing acceptance of buying on figures combined with video footage,” he said.
“You can put emphasis on production traits or eating quality or animal welfare, choosing the ASBVs that fit your objective.
“It’s an exciting time to be in the sheep industry and I’ve never seen it look so positive. I am really bullish about wool, and you only need to look at what has happened with beef and sheep meat which was too cheap for too long.
“We are pretty excited about our sale coming up in this kind of positive environment.”
Editor’s note: The author does some occasional writing work for Kerin Poll, one of the studs mentioned in this item.