Leading Merino sheep classer and livestock consultant, Andrew Calvert, says producers shouldn't get too obsessed with statistics when selecting sheep.
"There are so many facts and figures associated with livestock these days, it's easy to become obsessed with them but actually look at the sheep, they are the real proof," he said.
"To me, the only figures that matter are the ones in the bank statement. Keep focused on productivity and filling bales, the rest will follow."
Tasmanian-based Mr Calvert now works with 15 Merino studs and about 30 commercial producers across four states - NSW, Victoria, South Australia and his home state - and further abroad to New Zealand.
He is also a highly regarded Merino judge as well as being a professional classer for the New England Merino Lifetime Project (MLP) sire evaluation scheme.
His family has a rich history of involvement with the wool industry, seven generations strong, with two of his sons running their own wool broking business.
Born and bred in Tasmania, Mr Calvert's own farming career began in a commercial Polwarth operation.
When he realised that Merinos were a much more profitable breed, he switched, firstly to commercial Merino production and later as a successful stud breeder from 1986-2010 before moving into full-time classing and livestock consultation.
The true dual-purpose nature of Mernos has him hooked him on the breed.
"I love sheep and I think Merinos are a wonderful breed, they are so versatile and you can breed them to suit so many different environments," Mr Calvert said.
Selecting the ideal Merino starts with structure as he believes the fundamentals are critical to productivity.
"If you build a house, you put down the foundations before anything else and I take the same approach to my classing," he said.
"I'm very focused on the fundamentals, sheep have to be able to function, walk, convert and I'm also looking at productivity. I want to be able to breed a sheep that can maximise productivity in its given environment, and it's really important to assess that."
He takes time to evaluate the environment of his client and their livestock before sitting down to work out a breeding program which is generally done in three to five-year blocks, focusing on breeding a Merino that is true to type and relevant to the market.
He said at the crux of each program was the main profit drivers including fertility and wool cut to micron.
"If you focus on those, you will inevitably end up with a profitable animal," he said.
"As Merinos have become plainer in body, we have seen an improvement in fertility, we're breeding a more modern sheep.
"If you can get a lambing percentage of 130 per cent of lambs weaned compared with 100pc, it's a difference anywhere from $150-$300 per head.
"I've got clients that last year sold a line of cull one-year old ewes for $330 a head and others selling whether lambs for upward of $200 before they've even cut their two teeth.
"That's good money and with prices like that, you can't ignore the importance of fertility."
Wool-wise, Mr Calvert favours white, "waterproof" wool with good handle and nourishment, traits which he believes are essential in achieving the desired average micron.
He said selecting for good skin and structure to produce a dust-proof wool is also vital.
Mr Calvert loves watching stud clients excel in the show ring and commercial clients winning ewe competitions.
"That's very satisfying, seeing them do well and knowing your part of the team - and it is very much a team effort," he said.
"I find just as much enjoyment seeing my smaller commercial clients succeed as I do from my stud clients. I've literally had producers ready to toss it all in when we've first sat down, then seen them turn it around and land a contract for 90 bales of wool to Italy well above market price."
With both wool and meat prices reaching record levels, Mr Calvert believes the true value of the Merino to be evident now more than ever.
He said with that came the opportunity to inspire the next generation to become involved in such a promising industry.
"I have some clients that are focused on benchmarking their various operations and the advice they are getting is to reduce breeding cow numbers, increase breeding ewes and where country allows, run a wether flock," he said.
"To me, the Merino provides more options compared with a straight composite-types operation.
"We need to be mindful of ewe numbers when meat prices are this good but I've never seen more opportunity in agriculture in my lifetime than there is right now, and we need to encourage young people to be part of that."
- This case study is part of the Breed More Merino Ewes campaign, demonstrating the unrivalled performance of the Australian Merino Ewe. To read other case studies or to find out more information, go to www.merinos.com.au.