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Beyond the Bale : Feb 07 - Mar 07
By Kellie Penfold Mikala Walters had in mind a holiday house at the beach; Bob Walters was thinking more rest and recreation for rams. The plans for the coastal retreat have been shelved for a while, with the Monaro- based Walters family of 'Middleview Merino Stud' deciding to move their enterprise forward through a large investment in a new ram shed and undercover sheep yards. It is the latest stage in a program that they embarked on five years ago when they employed a new sheep classer and gave him the brief to "take 'Middleview' to the top". At the same time they wanted to lift the bottom line of their 800-hectare Dalgety property, which has 4100 sheep. "You could put me anywhere -- any type of farming country, in any part of Australia -- and I'd still want to be a fine wool Merino producer," says Mr Walters, the fourth generation of Walters to live on the Monaro. "I love it and I think it's a game where if you want to concentrate on improving your enterprise the profits will follow. "People come here and they think it's a bloody moonscape, but the sheep here are terrific. "Cropping was never an option for us. We were happy to put our money back into the wool industry through improving our shearing shed and building an adjoining ram shed and yards. It's another way of moving up a notch." Fifteen years ago, 'Middleview', which was started by Bob's parents Sid and Judy in 1977, was producing rams with 20.5-micron wool. Five years ago it was down to 18 to 19 micron. It was then they changed to a more modern classing system, which involved both visuals and hard data via on- farm fibre testing. The most recent tests on 350 'Middleview' rams came in with an average of 16.6 micron. "That decrease in micron has been achieved with an increase in fleece weight. Fifteen years ago, when we were running 20.5-micron sheep, they were cutting 4.5 kilograms of wool. Now our ewes are at 18.7 micron cutting 6.1kg of wool. "The stud was based on sheep that produced good white wools that handled the summer rains and had little trouble with flies, as 60 per cent of our rainfall on the Monaro is in summer. "In the beginning it was more a medium wool we were producing, but once you start accurate testing you are often surprised that it's not as fine as it looks or feels. "Five years ago we really started to focus on where our wool was going. You have to identify who is going to buy your wool and specialise to a degree. Our wool was suitable for the Italian market, so we saw we had to keep it as fine as possible while retaining fleece weight and good fertility. "At the same time, we looked at other enterprises but, even though cattle do OK on the Monaro, we felt it was most ideally suited to growing fine wool. "The problem is most people compare the top of the lamb and cattle markets to the bottom of the wool market and never consider the real figures." Realising change would not happen overnight, the Walters embarked on a long-term program of strict culling and introducing the genetics that would rectify problems and enhance the flock. "Each year we bring the parameters in a bit closer and become stricter. Our top maiden ewes this year cut an average of 7.4kg of wool at 16.3 micron. In five year's time they will be our oldest ewes. "We give ourselves hard goals. Now, I like to think of sheep producing over seven kilos a head of 14-micron wool." Mrs Walters admits the administration and extra work involved is not for everyone, but it gives them a feeling their business will survive for another generation: "You can achieve so much through genetics but you need to couple that with on-farm management." "At this time a lot of studs are bouncing ahead and others are going backwards," Mr Walters says. "The ones that appear to be going ahead are embracing all the tools available to them and making use of the information from Sheep Genetics Australia -- which has proved to be a great benchmarking tool for us and in helping select sires and we plan to join up." While the Walters have maintained good local support, most 'Middleview' clients now come from Victoria's Western Districts and Tasmania, where they have been searching for heavier-cutting sheep with lower-micron wool, as opposed to the traditional small-framed fine-wool sheep. "New clients usually come to us because they are seeking to rectify a problem with their flock and we have to have the genetics which are going to help solve that," Mr Walters says. "This year, we have an elite sire team within the stud which can offer some extreme traits." But it is not all high-tech for the Walters; they still enjoy occasionally exhibiting their sheep on the show circuit. "Visuals are still important and I look to put our sheep up there for comparison to the rest of the industry. You can always learn something," Mr Walters says. ú More information: Bob and Mikala Walters, 02 6456 6744, email@example.com Taking 'Middleview' to the top Despite its 'moonscape', the Monaro region of south-eastern NSW is great for Merinos -- just ask second-generation grower Bob Walters 10 ON-FARM BEYOND THE BALE PHOTO: KELLIE PENFOLD
Feb 07 - Mar 07 Supplement
Dec 06 - Jan 07