Merino ewes needed to rebuild Australia's flock

The Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) has a message to producers to breed more merino ewes.

The number of sheep in Australia is currently around 70 million, it is estimated that there are only around 20 million Merino ewes joined to Merino rams.

Merino numbers are steadily declining and this needs to change, AWI Stuart Hodgson said. Photo: Clare McCabe.

Merino numbers are steadily declining and this needs to change, AWI Stuart Hodgson said. Photo: Clare McCabe.

"This is the lowest our numbers have been for a long, long while," sheep industry specialist at AWI Stuart Hodgson said.

The ongoing drought conditions are the main cause of the steady decline in numbers leaving productivity down by about 15 per cent (pc), he said.

In 2018-19, AWIs April forecasts wool production at 285 million kilograms greasy, a 12.7pc decline from the levels of 2017-18. This is predicted to fall further by 4.5pc in 2019-20 (67.9 million head) assuming a return to normal seasonal conditions.

The lamb slaughter industry also forecasts a 7pc decline in 2019, at 21.2 million head, according to Meat and Livestock Australia.

The average yield which is 63.8pc is the lowest level in 8 seasons, and the mean fibre diameter of the national clip is 0.5 microns finer than last season, according to the Australian Wool Production Forecasting Committee. There is a reduction to staple length, strength and vegetable matter.

Get your sheep right, and cut as much wool as you can and have as many lambs as you can. Do what your country will sustain you to.

Stuart Hodgson

Test data to March 2019 showed an increase in the weight of 17.5 micron wool tested, as well as a decline in the volume of 18.6 to 24.5 microns wool and 26.6 and broader.

The industry remains to be viable, Mr Hodgson said. The Eastern Market Indicator closed at 1952 Australian cents clean per kilogram, it is between 1900-2000ac clean/kg.

Mr Hodgson said his main concern is the continuity and supply of Merino sheep. It is estimated there are around 50,000 Merino breeders in Australia, and the AWI want more ewes.

"It's such an adaptable animal, you can run them in the harsh plains of Western NSW... to the lush areas in Tasmania and New Zealand.

Mr Hodgson who started his career as a jackaroo at 'Wonga Merino Stud' was at a sheep-classing workshop at 'Innisvale', in Crookwell on Thursday, May 16.

He worked with around 70 producers using traditional classing techniques. "The demise of the jackaroo and jillaroo system, young people are losing that stockmanship and to look at a sheep and make a decision from a subjective point of view.

"I'm not against objective figures they're to be used in cohort with each other."

Trends in the industry showed that people are choosing the right genetics to cut more wool, and are easy to shear.

Producers need to establish productive sheep by benchmarking joining and early nutrition, Elders livestock production manager, Rob Inglis said.

  • "40pc of sheep produce 80pc of your income."
  • A sheep should cut 10-12pc of the body weight from a standard reference weight of a six-tooth ewe.
  • To improve reproduction producers need a 3-3.5 condition joining score. If joining takes more than five to six weeks than its difficult to improve.
  • In the third trimester, food nutrition will put producers ahead. This will lift the skin condition over a lifetime. "You'll be beating the curve by feeding properly in the last trimester."