Merino sheep have been the cornerstone of farming success for a large area of rural Australia for almost two centuries. In recent times, though, Merino sheep numbers have fallen, with challenges from some of the “other” broad acre farming alternatives such as cropping and prime lamb production. There are plenty of articles and published information for those wanting to look for the financial comparisons of one enterprise to another, or for the performance of wool/merino sheep enterprises over time. The AASMB website has an excellent series of reports that detail the very good returns Merino producers are achieving.
However, despite the profitable times wool and merino sheep have enjoyed in the recent past, the move to prime lambs and the resilience of cropping acres is not abating. We also know of many wool producers who are delighted with their Merino operations, in this article we look at Kurra Wirra and it's work on ABSV's.
Contented Merino breeders.
One business is Kurra Wirra, in the Western Districts of Victoria near Harrow.
Kurra Wirra is now a fourth-generation grazing business, and it has over the past 50 years continued to expand on the back of its Merino sheep. It has also been adaptive, alongside the Merino sheep is a successful commercial and stud cattle business, and in recent times prime lambs have been added.
The positive to this is that the Merino flock has remained one of the cornerstones of Kurra Wirra.
A key to this has been the ability to continue to add new ideas. Most recently Anthony Close returned to the Kurra-Wirra team, deciding on a career in farming after completing a 3-year Agricultural science degree at LaTrobe University while previously having a year abroad in Canada on work experience.
Part of Anthony’s role is to introduce new ideas and enthusiasm, and to take the farming and livestock business to another level.
He is also an active hands-on member in the Balmoral Sire Evaluation Trial working together with progressive breeders to advance his personal sheep skills, knowledge of elite merino genetics and to contribute to the merino industry.
Anthony has taken all the performance-recording responsibilities on both the sheep and cattle studs that will make him the one to talk to about the genetic performance of the livestock as more and more time goes on.
Experience combined with enthusiasm.
The Kurra Wirra model is to recognise that it’s very important that the balance of objective performance and technology, and the combination of Rob Close’s (Antony’s father) 45 years of traditional and calibrated performance selection methods are maintained.
"Anthony’s role is to introduce new ideas and enthusiasm, and to take the farming and livestock business to another level."
Sharing and learning skills from each other will be key to taking Kurra-Wirra into the future.
Kurra-Wirra now uses ASBV’s on all stud sheep. For 45 years’ performance records have been maintained, and now by using MERINOSELECT to produce ASBV’s and to benchmark the flock, real performance can be measured against the rest of the merino industry.
The multi-trait package of the Modern Merino is the key to what makes them so profitable for Kurra Wirra.
The Modern merino ewe is highly fertile producing lots of lambs, both Merino self-replacement’s and Prime lambs with high growth rates to turn off surplus animals at an earlier age. Combine this with added DSE/ha rates that the Merino allows, makes it the ultimate quality wool and meat production system.
How Kurra-Wirra operates their flock:
By getting great performance out of the merino genetics, it allows Kurra Wirra to not only maintain the wool clip, but also capitalize on the prime lamb trade. Mating merino ewes to White Suffolk rams has resulted in achieving 100%+ marking rates. This is assisted by the 46% of ewes scanning to twins at pregnancy testing.
Mixed aged ewes mated to White Suffolk rams are lambed down mainly in June - early July and some older ewes (8+ year old’s who have reared a lamb every year) in late July. All lambs are then sold as suckers or stores in the spring. This is a most profitable enterprise that is grossing approximately $1200 per HA. By mating the most genetically advanced 2 and 3-year old’s and studs to merinos, Kurra Wirra maintain a very healthy flock structure of merino ewes.
Merino wether lambs last year were sold for $105 (still with lamb’s teeth) as yearlings after producing a valuable wool clip.
Kurra-Wirra ewes in the 2015/2016 drought produced an average of 5.25kg or wool at 17.7 micron along with 2000+ prime lambs averaging $114.
The evolution of a merino type with high fertility, good wool production, long stapled and low micron sheep have enabled success in this grazing business to happen like never before.
Like many of the remaining Merino flocks, Kurra Wirra are at the cutting edge of the sheep industry and each year aim for more lambs, more wool, more growth, at a younger age and shearing twice a year. And it’s all on based on a Merino ewe!!! There is continual change and improvement needed as nothing stands still in the industry and neither does Kurra-Wirra. It is a fact that Merino sheep have played an important role in the success of the business to date, but importantly they are a key element in the future plans of Kurra Wirra.
There are many stories like the Kurra Wirra story; the wool industry needs to make sure that these positive results are well known. Mecardo is happy to publish and promote them, because we believe the modern Merino has an important role to play in the future of the Australian rural landscape.