We believe that farm profitability needs to be the focus of a sheep enterprise. It's not about having the biggest sheep, highest wool cut, or fanciest looking animal, but having a comprehensive look at all profit drivers. We believe that sheep need to be able to survive and thrive on their own, with minimal chemical and feeding intervention. This is particularly true in the more extensive areas such as exist in Queensland, where sheep are run on tens of thousands of acres and more intensive management is often impractical.
We see the following as key profit drivers:
A key part of breeding sheep that are resistant to fly strike and fleece rot without mulesing. Also, more wool goes into the top lines at shearing and it captures the non mulesed premiums.
Not only do more lambs on the ground mean more surplus lamb sales, but having more lambs also allows for faster genetic gain by allowing a higher percentage of lambs to be culled.
Lambs that mature earlier have a good head start to life and reach a sale weight at an earlier age, or can be sold at a heavier weight.
Not many people like feeding sheep! Efficient feed and forage use means that feeding is limited to severe droughts and production feeding at critical times like lactating twin bearing ewes.
An average single born lamb from a mature ewe is going to be visually more appealing than a twin born lamb from a maiden. We use a combination of breeding values (ASBVs) and visual assessment to guarantee that it is the genetics, not environmental factors that we are classing on.
We haven't mulesed here at Rosedale since 2006. Mulesing has been a regular hot topic over the past couple decades, but we don't understand why it is being so hotly contested. With the genetics available today, it is possible to stop mulesing within 2 generations. Many producers might even find they are able to stop mulesing after a single cross! The research has been around for over 70 years showing that a sheep with looser, thinner, less wrinkly skin has wool follicles packed more densely, so there is very little (if any) reduction in the amount of wool grown. Additionally, a plainer sheep will generally be in better condition and produce more lambs than a wrinkly one.
There are three main factors that cause our sheep to not need mulesing - plainer bodies, wool quality and bare breeches.
It is obvious that a plainer sheep would be less prone to breech strike, as wrinkles create an ideal home for the flies to breed in. This has been achieved by measurement and selection for thin skin and high follicle density which results in a plain bodied sheep with no pin wrinkle.
Selecting for high follicle density has the added advantage of producing large numbers of fine, evenly sized and well aligned fibres. This allows the wool to breathe and dry out quicker, also reducing the likelihood of fly strike (or fleece rot!) over the entire body.
Our sheep also have naturally bare breeches, reducing the accumulation of dags and urine and making a less hospitable environment for flies.
When classing our sheep, we are looking for wool that is bright white with no colour. It must also have a long staple length, a deep, bold, horseshoe crimp and highly aligned fibres. Soft to handle wool is also very important because it indicates that the wool fibres are fine, and very evenly sized. This results in a fleece that has better staple strength and superior processing qualities, with less waste (noil) in the manufacturing process.
Longer staple lengths is another thing we actively select for. Many of our younger sheep are now growing over 13mm of wool per month! Being able to move to 6 monthly shearing has many advantages. When we shifted our shearing from post joining in May to pre joining in February, we gained 10% extra lambs simply due to the benefit of extra condition on the ewes leading up to joining. Being able to shear before joining as well as prior to lambing means that benefit can be seen at both those critical stages.
There is something in our environment here at Rosedale that creates huge selection pressure on whiteness of wool. Over the years, we have often bought sheep that had bright wool when we bought them, but within a year they were yellow. We have often said that if we can breed white wool here, it will be white anywhere! Thus, the ability to maintain bright white wool is a very important trait for us
The constitution and structure of an animal is of utmost importance to us. Before anything else, sheep need to be able to stand and walk well. We select animals with long, deep bodies and big hindquarters that are wide, square and deep in the twist. Rams need to have large scrotums. The sheep have wide, soft muzzles and long, soft ears.
The ability to maintain body condition in varying pasture conditions is also very important. We select animals that stay in good condition, have large eye muscle areas and good levels of fat cover.
Another key trait we select for is early maturing sheep. We believe that there is no point having overly large animals that require more feed to maintain their body weight. Instead, we are more concerned with how quickly they can reach their mature body weight. There are multiple benefits. Lambs are born at a healthy weight and very quickly gain weight over the first few weeks of life, causing them to be much more lively and resilient. Next, they will be reaching a sale weight quicker. Also, they will be more fertile and productive as a maiden or ewe lamb.
Possibly one of the biggest profit drivers is fertility. At Rosedale, any sheep that doesn't have a lamb each year doesn't get a second chance. The remaining ewes are proven breeders, and there are currently 10 year old ewes here that have had lambs (often 2) every year for their whole life.
We collect large amounts of data to enable us to make effective classing decisions and to generate estimated breeding values (ASBVs) thanks to Merino Select and Sheep Genetics. We collect the following data:
Carcass traits. All our lambs get weighed every 3 months as a minimum. At 11 months, we also muscle scan, fat scan, condition score and collect a scrotal circumference on the rams. All the ewes also get conditioned scored at least twice each year at joining and pregnancy scanning.
Wool traits. At 10 months of age, all our lambs are shorn. We collect a host of data including fleece weights, micron, staple length, curvature, comfort factor and coefficient of variation among others.
Reproductive traits. We pregnancy scan and mother up all our ewes and lambs.
Health traits. We collect individual faecal worm egg counts and cull animals that are heavily affected by worms. On the rare occasion an animal gets flyblown, it is culled.
Visual traits. Every lamb gets scored for structural traits, breech wrinkle, breech cover, wool character, wool colour, and dag score among others.
Our flock is run for the most part under the same commercial conditions we operated under before buying Well Gully Poll Merino stud ewes and rams. We run our sheep in single large mobs to allow for accurate data collection to try and eliminate the environmental impacts and instead focus on their genetic potential.
We single sire mate all our ewes in mid April for 5-6 weeks, and start lambing in mid September. Outside of joining and lambing, the ewes are run together as a single mob under a planned grazing system. At pregnancy scanning, they are split into singles and multiples, with the multiples given preferential paddocks. They are then split into small mobs of mostly 100 or fewer just prior to lambing.
Soon after lamb marking, the ewes are again run all together. After weaning, the lambs are split into rams and ewes, and stay in those 2 mobs until we collect their wool data and carcass scanning data at 10 or 11 months of age. The lambs are run on our native and improved pastures, and spare cultivations over summer and autumn. In winter, we usually have an oats based mixed species forage crop to fatten and finish them on.
We are currently shearing at approximately 8 month intervals, and are looking to progressing to a 6 monthly shearing in a few years.
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