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Beyond the Bale : Feb - Mar 08
By Nicole Baxter NSW Merino breeder Clarrie Doyle has entered his fourth year of producing mules-free Merino sheep at his 700-hectare Bendemeer property thanks, he says, to the power of genetic selection as his sole weapon against the blowfly. The New England grower, who runs 1250 ewes at 'Danbury', 70 kilometres south-west of Armidale, says his approach is a simple case of breeding out wrinkly skin and culling fly-struck animals. "We don't apply chemicals to control body-strike because it just disguises the problem," Mr Doyle says. "Instead, we are trying to bring our breeding in tune with nature so we don't need chemicals to keep sheep alive. Consumers want a 'green' animal and genetic selection is really the only way to fix the mulesing problem." Mr Doyle estimates the transition to Merino sheep without skin wrinkle has saved him between $1375 and $1500 a year in mulesing costs, assuming a 110 to 120 per cent lambing. And while crutching is still necessary, Mr Doyle has noticed the bare area under the breech of his Merinos is now quite large. But producing profitable, easy-care sheep was not a fast process. It began six years ago, when Mr Doyle moved from Mungindi on the NSW- ueensland border to his present property, and brought with him a flock of plain-bodied Merino ewes. And although many woolgrowers breed sheep for a particular area, Mr Doyle prefers to source ewes from arid areas in the state's west to develop animals that can thrive in any environment. To achieve this, he has formed Australian Meat Merinos (AMM) with sheep classer Dr Jim Watts -- to test his rams' skin thickness and follicle density -- and Andrew Dowling, owner of 'Keri-Keri Merino Stud', Moulamein, NSW (70km north-east of Swan Hill on the NSW--Victorian border). AMM sheep are classed for thin and loose skins that are free of any body or breech wrinkle and measured in Dr Watts' laboratory to ensure that each sire has high levels of fibre density, length and fineness. "We're working hard on feed conversion and that's why we source hardy animals that have been naturally selected during the past 200 years so their sur vivability is assured ... something people tend to forget about," Mr Doyle says. And while sceptics argue wool cut will be compromised when selecting for plain-bodied sheep, Mr Doyle's flock is producing an average of four to five kilograms of 18-micron greasy wool every seven months -- not far from his six- month goal -- with a staple length of 90 millimetres and a comfort factor of 99.8. are important. Although lambing percentages are already 40 to 50 per cent higher than the local average of 70 per cent, Mr Doyle is targeting 120 to 140 per cent. He says one client has averaged 133 per cent lambing from his Merino ewes, allowing him to stock 400 fewer animals without compromising profit. Part of his strategy involves selecting maiden ewes that rear twins, milk from four teats and produce lambs with long and fine outer coats to protect them from the harsh weather. Mr Doyle believes this birth-coat characteristic is an early indicator of sheep with high levels of fibre density and fibre length. Superior ewes are then 'married up' with rams that suit. In most cases, these are rams that have no wool-bearing skin on their breech and testicles. ú More information: Clarrie Doyle, 02 6769 6452, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.australianmeatmerino.com Genetic selection to beat the blowfly A growing number of woolgrowers across Australia are no longer mulesing their sheep because they have concentrated their efforts on using the power of genetics. One such grower is Clarrie Doyle 4GENETICS BEYOND THE BALE He has achieved these results by always selecting for big, plain-bodied Merino sheep, avoiding supplementary feeding and never putting rams in sheds. At classing, the 46-year-old grazier, who started his working life as a rouseabout in ueensland woolsheds, works with Dr Watts and Mr Dowling to select big- framed, wrinkle-free, 'triple-wedge' shaped animals with long loins, high rumps, well-muscled hindquarters and white wool. To produce sheep completely free of skin wrinkle, Mr Doyle uses a development flock of out-crossed rams as a tool to take off excess skin very quickly. This out-crossed flock comprises sires that have been bred in-house with genetics from Andrew Dowling's 'Keri-Keri' Merino stud and Andrew Michael's 'Leachim Poll Merino Stud', at Snowtown, South Australia. Some prime lamb sires are also used sparingly in this small mob to reduce wrinkle and improve carcass development. Mr Doyle then uses his best Merino and Poll Merino sires to add fine wool and high fleece weight characteristics. In his main breeding line of straight Merinos, ewe bodyweights are 65 to 70kg, but the goal is to lift this to 80kg and to have them reach this body weight early in life. To increase flock profitability, fertility and lamb survival No need to mules: New England's Clarrie Doyle with some of his wrinkle- free sheep. PHOTOS: MATTHEW CAWOOD Clarrie Doyle's approach is a simple case of breeding out wrinkly skin and culling fly-struck animals.
Feb - Mar 08 Supplement
Apr - May 08