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Beyond the Bale : February 2010
February 2010 BEYOND THE BALE WOOL PRODUCTION 21 Like many of their crop-growing peers, Bernie and Liz Dwyer are pretty sure that if they hadn't changed course in the management of their Merino flock they would be out of sheep. But instead, the couple, who run a mixed enterprise at Alectown in Central West NSW, applied the same approach they take to growing crops to wool production. "We enlisted an agronomist to look at how we were growing crops, to ask questions to make us assess if we were doing things in the most profitable manner and to tell us what to do about any problems, be it weeds or varieties. We asked ourselves, 'Well, why don't we Flock assessment a winner FAST FACTS l Applying the same management principles to their woolgrowing enterprise as employed to grow crops can return dividends to farmers. l The Dwyers have benefited from an independent appraisal of their flock. l Wether trials have enabled the Dwyers to see how their wethers perform side by side with other wethers, under the same conditions. Central NSW woolgrower Bernie Dwyer with his son Patrick. PH OTO : KELLIE PENFOLD PHOTO: KELLIE PENFOLD treat our sheep in the same way by using a sheep classer?'" Bernie says. Eight years ago, the Dwyers introduced an independent sheep classer to their suite of farm advisers with the philosophy, "if he tells us our sheep are no good, we'll sell them all and start again with the right genetics". That's almost what the classer did and the portion of their Merino ewe flock they did retain was later wiped out when a bushfire swept through the farm shortly after. The Dwyers started with a self- replacing flock of 1000 Merino ewes, which averaged four to five kilograms of 21.5 micron wool. Nowadays, having leased more country and expanded both his cropping and wool program, Bernie is running 2000 Merino ewes -- 75 per cent of which are joined to Merinos for self replacements and wether production -- which cut an average of seven kilograms of 19 micron wool. Last year wether lambs cut three kilograms per head of wool which, at the time, was worth 1100 cents per kilogram greasy. Off-shears lambs were then sold for $60 a head, bringing the total return to $93 a head for animals less than 12 months old. "We are gaining in our wool, not decreasing -- which is the key in retaining a profitable enterprise," Bernie says. The steps Bernie and Liz took started with having the sheep classer go through their flock and culling non-performing sheep, using side sampling wool testing. Ewes were then sourced to bring numbers back up and sire genetics was the next focus. "You can find the genetics you need possibly in the stud you are already linked to, you just have to look hard at the sire values," Bernie says, adding he found the genetics he needed in $1000-a-head rams. The next step was to put the enterprise to the test by entering wether trials and measuring the gains made. A team has been entered in all three of Craig Wilson's wether trials and the Dwyers hosted the second trial on their farm. "Trials have shown us you can see two identical-looking sheep standing side by side, each with a head and four legs and each eating the same feed. One can make you $100 a head and the other $50 a head. You need to know why there is that difference and what you need to do to be the owner of the sheep that makes $100 a head," Bernie says. "Wether trials are just like crop trials -- you can see how the varieties perform side by side under the same conditions."
September November 2009