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Beyond the Bale : Dec - Jan 08
By Rebecca Thyer When shearing starts next May at the 1700- hectare western Victorian wool property 'Mokanger', owner Mark Rayner and manager Shane Arnold will be watching closely to see if their goal of reaching an average of 16 microns across the 21,500-strong Merino flock is realised. Since Mr Rayner bought the Cavendish property in 1992, he has been working to refine his micron range to differentiate his product in the commodity-driven wool market. To reach this goal, new bloodlines have been introduced, while improved pastures and changed lambing and shearing dates have also helped lift wool cuts, stocking rates and tensile strength. To date, the work has been successful. In 2001-02, the average adult fibre diameter was 19.4 microns. That year 35 kilograms per hectare of clean wool was cut, equating to 5.9kg/ha per 100 millimetres of rain, with a mid-winter stocking rate of 9.7DSE (dry sheep equivalents) per hectare. For 2006-07 the average adult fibre diameter is 17 microns, cutting 43kg/ha of clean wool, or 12.7kg/ micron plus staple strength index. All commercial flock hoggets are laser scanned for micron and fleece weight at the 18-month shearing. The 2005 drop averaged 16 microns at 18 months, while the 2006 drop lambs averaged 14.1 at six months, giving Mr Rayner and Mr Arnold confidence that their goal of 16 microns across the flock will be reached as older, stronger ewes are retired. They expect to cut 45 to 50kg of clean wool a hectare next year. Reaching these goals has been helped by Sheep Genetics, the national genetic information and evaluation service. Mr Rayner says the Sheep Genetics database has let them benchmark and compare themselves to other studs. "We used to mark ourselves using index values within our own flock and rank ourselves with 'Yalgoo' and 'Cressbrook'. But now we can get a very good broad comparison." The comparison has brought some pleasant surprises for 'Mokanger'. "We found we had a ram ranked number one in the 20 per cent micron plus staple strength index and a number of others ranked in the top 25," Mr Rayner says. "It's given us a lot of encouragement." He says it is also useful to be able to look at the characteristics of other sheep. "It lets us keep a closer eye on key traits so we can improve particular characteristics in our own flock." The aim of reducing micron, while maintaining fleece and body weight and increasing staple strength, has been helped by improved pastures and changing lambing and shearing dates. Sheep are rotationally grazed in mobs of 1500 to 2000 on 40ha paddocks and run in micron groups after the shearing at 18 months. Rotational grazing allows pastures time to regenerate, with 80ha of clover, phalaris and cocksfoot re-sown each year to keep pastures in top condition. About 10 per cent of pasture has been sown down to lucerne and chicory to provide extra summer feed. Running sheep in micron groups allows the most promising sheep to get the best feed and increases efficiency of wool preparation at shearing, which has been moved from November to May. Mr Arnold says the change in shearing dates was made for tensile strength reasons. "A change in feed can cause a break in the wool. We've tried to minimise this by shearing in May as close to the autumn break as possible." Lambing has also been changed from July to late spring (October) to run more ewes. "More feed is available in the later stages of pregnancy and lambing in late spring helps with the weather, as it is a bit warmer that time of the year. And by lambing then, we have green feed -- chicory and lucerne -- and silage for weaning in December. We dedicate about 200 hectares of summer active pastures for the weaners." ú More information: Mark Rayner, mrayner@mokanger. com.au, email@example.com; Sheep Genetics, www.sheepgenetics.org.au New blood helps fine-tune wool A change in genetics has seen a western Victorian Merino station refine its micron range, opening new marketing opportunities 17 GENETICS BEYOND THE BALE ha/100mm of rain with a stocking rate of 12DSE/ha. For the first eight years, 'Mokanger' used rams from 'Denholm Green' to develop a consistent flock of heavy-cutting 19-micron sheep. Mr Rayner then began looking at bloodlines to reduce micron while holding fleece weight. 'Yalgoo' was identified as a good option. Six 'Yalgoo' rams were introduced in 2000 and used to artificially inseminate about 5000 ewes in that year and in 2001, to achieve what Mr Rayner recalls as "a fast transition in bloodlines", while 'Mokanger' also started its own ram-breeding operation. The property sells some of its rams to local growers, but plans to widen its reach in the next two to three years. Today, 300 stud ewes are artificially inseminated each year -- 100 with 'Yalgoo', 100 with another bloodline 'Cressbrook' (which was introduced in 2001 to further refine the genetics), and 100 with its own highest-ranking ram. Stud progeny are fleece tested at 18 months. Wool is tested for micron, fleece weight, staple strength and style or trueness to type. Sheep are tested for body weight and worm egg counts and are ranked on the standard 20 per cent Manager Shane Arnold among rams on 'Mokanger', western Victoria. PHOTO: REBECCA THYER
Oct 07 - Nov 07
Feb - Mar 08 Supplement