Alan McCormack of Walwa Merino stud, Gurrundah is switching sides from exhibiting to judging for the first time at the Great Southern Supreme Merino (GSSM) show and ram sale in Canberra from January 18-20.
The stud master is judging the fine category, alongside other judges John Holley (superfine), Peter Rogers (fine/medium) and Stuart McBurnie (medium/strong) on Saturday and Sunday, before 41 rams are offered for sale on Monday.
He said he would be looking for well-balanced sheep.
"It tends to be like a set of scales: the bigger and meatier the sheep, the less wool or less quality wool it will have, and the better quality or heavier cutting sheep tend to have fewer physical attributes; they may be as big but they'll be less meaty," Mr McCormack said.
"Quite often you'll get outstanding sheep fibre or meat. I'm looking for something outstanding on both sides."
More than 340 sheep will be judged, with thirty-two studs from NSW and Victoria taking part in the 73rd show.
An optimistic president George Merriman said confidence for a "solid show" was high despite the drought and deadly fires.
He conceded the numbers were down marginally on the 352 sheep off 26 merino studs and 23 poll merino studs exhibited in 2019 but remained upbeat.
"There is a positive feeling about this show," Mr Merriman, Merryville Merino stud, Boorowa, said.
"To my knowledge, only a couple have pulled out because of the weather, so we should still have a great show."
Mr McCormack decided to have a year off showing sheep this year after showing the sheep normally held for this year in 2019.
Instead, he has joined the judging team.
The show often struggles to find local judges, with many of them already showing, presenting a conflict of interest, Mr Merriman said.
"We need someone completely autonomous. It was good that we were able to get Alan this year," he said.
Mr McCormack has judged at many of the major sheep shows in Australia, including Sydney Royal, National Merino Sheep Show and Ram Sale at Dubbo, Australian Sheep and Wool Show at Bendigo, Sheepvention inHamilton, Adelaide Royal and WA Sheep Expo and Ram Sale in Katanning.
He said he was looking forward to getting a good look at all the sheep at this year's GSSM.
"When you exhibit, you get to benchmark against other people's sheep, but when you judge you see every sheep that's there. You judge your group (fine) and then the best ones from each group go against each other for champion," Mr McCormack.
"I probably enjoy judging more than I do showing."
Mr McCormack's interest in breeding started straight out of school, according to his father, Alan McCormack senior.
"I grew up on a sheep farm and Dad was a really keen sheep man, so I was exposed to it a lot. He had the stud going well through the early 90s and then we got hit with Johne's disease, which really knocked us about for ten to 12 years," Mr McCormack said.
"We couldn't have the stud anymore and we couldn't sell rams. Then in about 2001, the red tape changed: they brought in the vaccine and all of a sudden we were able to sell again. I left school in 2000, so I was keen to get it going again."
His judging experience started at junior judging competitions until he was noticed by breeders and invited to local shows at Harden, Boorowa and Taralga. As his confidence grew, Mr McCormack moved onto the bigger shows.
In terms of mentors, Mr McCormack said he tried to learn something off everyone, but gave credit to one man in particular.
"We had a good sheep classer, John Williams from Cooma, who we got at the end of his career. I learnt a lot from him in terms of breeding sheep," he said.
"Not so much judging, but the two sort of go hand-in-hand: trying to pick the ones that will breed on, which is a bit of an art.
"There's a lot of show sheep these days that are very well prepared and presented but never breed anything. It's a bit like a thoroughbred stallion that wins heaps of races but never breeds a winner. You want the ones that might not win themselves but will breed winners."
Breeding has even changed at Walwa to suit the fluctuating wool and meat markets.
"In 2000, fine wool was really big, whereas, in the past three or four years, the medium wools have been making more money. Then the meat side of it has changed around," Mr McCormack said.
"Back in the 80s, when the wool boom was on, when Dad was doing it, your wool cheque could have been 80 per cent of your whole farm income if you had some cattle and other cross-breeds. Now your wool cheque might only be 50 per cent of your income. Your sheep meat is the other 50 per cent.
"Wool isn't as dominant as it used to be, so you're looking for more dual-purpose sheep, even in the finer end. You need sheep that are bigger, more fertile and grow quicker."
"We were in that Italian super fine market and I've gone away from it. If the wool goes to China, that's fine, I just want more wool at a price - not trying to get a high price - and with that get more lambs and bigger sheep."
The Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) is reporting merino ewe numbers at the lowest they've been in a long time and Mr McCormack said he's noticed the affect that's having on studs.
"It's really hard to sell rams. That's coming from a small stud perspective, but even large studs' numbers are down, simply because there are not enough ewes," he said.
"What the industry should be doing to fix it, I don't know.
"One of the problems is the volatility in the wool market and I don't know if AWI can fix that. Last year, we were getting fluctuations of $1 and $1.50 every week, and then $3 over three weeks or a month and that's a lot of money.
"At the time, there were people who couldn't hold onto their wool and wait it out: they were in a drought, they had no water and had spent all their money on feed. Then a week later, it's gone up $3. They've just been kicked in the guts and they're the people who say I'm just going to have cross-breeds or cattle."
The GSSM show and ram sale will open at 10.30am on January 18 and run until 5pm the next day before the sale session begins at 11am on January 20.
The selling agents are Landmark and Elders.
We care about what you think.
Have your say in the form below: