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Beyond the Bale : February March 2009
February – March 2009 Beyond the Bale Genetics master Classer shares a Clear view of tomorrow t 73, renowned independent sheep classer Gordon (‘Gordie’) McMaster has a great appreciation for the Merinos bred from 1960 to 1985, calling this the age of the ‘majestic’ Merino. However, he knows the industry is changing and that the Merino must adapt with it. the narrandera-based classer, who has classed at the country’s largest a studs and around the world, describes himself as an “ultra traditionalist”, but the type of sheep he recommends meets the growing need for a non- mulesing, fertile animal with a good wool cut and meat carcase. “the industry needs to dramatically change from the slopes to the western division. it doesn’t have to change as dramatically in the better wool-growing areas, where the majority of income is derived from quality wools, but it still has to change to improve its lambing percentage,” he says. “More people are selecting for a plainer-body sheep, with little front and this type of Merino would not have been accepted 10 to 15 years ago. it is completely and utterly contrary to what most stud masters believed the wool-growing animal should be.” Gordon disagrees with any notion that wool cut cannot be maintained by removing the front from the animal. “the key is to breed with plain- bodied loose skin, which is different to flat skin,” he says. “With flat skin, you lose fibre-follicle density, which affects your wool cut.” to this end, Gordon classes for size, length and depth of body, follicle density and staple length, which have been his breeding goals over his 53-year career. He believes the decline in wool income has changed the relationship between the stud master and his clients, forcing more clients to look at the direction of their flocks and question the genetics. “there were big sheep with lambing survival problems and a lambing percentage of 85 to 95 per cent, which wasn’t enough. Big wool cuts alone did not pay the bills.” Gordon comments that although growers should question the genetics they add to their flock, an emerging trend of moving from source to source and selecting heavily from figures should be discouraged as it produces extremities and not a particular type. it also does not create pre-potency and heritability of type, he says. Producers could not select for more than about six requirements at a time and maintain a positive direction, Gordon says, with the most important requirements being micron, staple strength, staple length, bulk and nourishment, fertility and carcase. “the remaining 25 to 30 Australian sheep Breeding values (AsBvs) are of little consequence and we’re not being paid for using them,” he says. “there is not much profit margin these days and breeding should PHOtO: MAttHeW cAWOOd revolve around turning pasture into money, so therefore get your pastures into first-class order to add to your productivity.” in Australia, Gordon suggests, a profitable operation should derive 60 per cent of its income from meat and lambs and 40 per cent from wool (for medium-strong wools). “You need 10 to 12 kilograms of bodyweight to one kilogram of wool. if you have too much wool, you lose lambing percentage,” he says. it is Gordon’s prediction that, in the next decade, Merinos will look almost like a White suffolk with quality Merino wool. “in its present form the Merino flock is unsustainable. We must look to a multi-purpose animal,” he says. “Unless we produce a meat carcase off a Merino and have good ‘growthy’ lambs that we don’t have to tend to, we won’t have a Merino industry. People forget Merino has the highest taste test of any sheep breed, as shown in tests by Lincoln University in new Zealand.” AWi congratulates Gordon McMaster on becoming a recent member of the Medal of the Order of Australia. ? More information: Gordon McMaster, 02 6959 3310, 0428 693 799 history a guide for the future According to Paul Kelly of ‘egelabra Merino stud’ in Warren, central nsW, changes in wool-growing practices must be achieved slowly. “changes take time. they’re not going to happen overnight. if you rip in there and try to produce sheep with a bare breach quickly, you’ll take the wool off quickly too,” he says. A full-time classer since 1993, Paul is leading the esteemed ‘egelabra’ sheep flock into the future, all the while observing the enterprise’s 120-year operating history for lessons learnt. Paul feels work done by previous classers, which has gordon mcmaster: “in its present form the merino flock is unsustainable. we must look to a multi-purpose animal.” resulted in existing wool quality, must not be ignored, which is why it is important breeding programs are not rushed. “the industry has improved wool dramatically since the end of the 1980s,” he says. “Wool is a lot brighter, with more character and definition and, although people want plainer sheep, they will only go so far because they don’t want to affect their wool cut. People are seeking bigger, plainer, easier-care types now, with finer wool.” 13
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