WA flock a value winner in challenge

Dorothy HendersonCountryman
Livestock manager Karl Witt.
Camera IconLivestock manager Karl Witt. Credit: Countryman

On West Lort River, the property operated by the Stead family at Cascade, north-east of Esperance, sheep move quietly in the yard behind livestock manager Karl Witt.

The rams, bearing coloured ear tags to denote their bloodlines, are the living embodiment of the philosophy behind the breeding program on the farm, a program that saw Hargate Park sheep win the Peter Westblade Merino Challenge for 2016-18.

Described as the largest wether trial in Australia, the 2016-18 challenge saw 50 teams compared in an exercise designed to assess the value of animals in a commercial farming enterprise.

It evaluated both commercial carcase and wool attributes of randomly selected 2015-drop wether lambs.

Most of the wool-growing regions in Australia were represented through teams of 30 lambs from NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and WA.

The preliminary results from the final shearing saw Hargate Park topping the overall sheep value rankings, with $143.63 a head.

Second in the challenge was the Bahr family, from The Rock, NSW, with an overall sheep value of $143.44, while another WA flock, North Stirling Downs Pty Ltd, of Gnowangerup, was in third spot.

Not a great deal of fuss has been made about the farm’s achievement in the challenge, but for those serious about Merino breeding in the Esperance area, the success of the Stead family’s breeding program is encouraging.

As Mr Witt points out, the competition is one that reflects the overall value of the sheep produced, with consideration of production both in terms of meat and wool.

He said the value of the challenge was that results could be used as a benchmark, a measure of the breeding program’s effectiveness in the quest to produce a dual-purpose Merino. The wethers in the challenge enable assessment of key production traits within the ewe breeding flock.

At Hargate Park, artificial insemination is used over a nucleus of 220 breeding ewes, with semen from rams chosen on the basis of breeding values. Selection of rams and maiden ewes is rigorous, with visual assessment used in combination with fleece sampling to determine the role of each sheep in the breeding plan.

A flock of 6500 Merinos is run by the Stead family, whose mixed operation also includes cropping and cattle.

Published results show that the Hargate Park Pyramid-blood wethers cut 3.6kg of 18.6-micron wool. Their fleece value came in 89¢ below the trial average, but the wethers made up for it in carcass value, with nearly 10kg more than the average, equating to $13.22 more than the average carcass value. Overall, this left the Hargate Park team $12.32 more valuable than the average.

Sally Martin, from Sally Martin Consulting, has helped with data collection, management and analysis since the first Peter Westblade Merino Challenge began in 2010.

She said key aspects of the Peter Westblade Merino Challenge enabled entrants to “assess their flocks’ strengths and weaknesses”.

Wool and carcase values are calculated using a five-year rolling average, and further analysis of data would be published in the coming months highlighting the net profit per hectare for both the 2017 and 2018 shearing results.

Mr Witt said that the results of the trial could be combined with the information from local trails, co-ordinated by the South East Merino Breeders Improvement Group, to enable them to be used as a benchmark for local breeders.

The total sheep value per head ranged from a low of $111.75 to $143.63 at an average $131.31.

Wool values per head ranged from $42.53 to $66.12.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails