Modern Merino$

The Australian Merino has evolved into a premier all purpose sheep

Sheep
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The Australian Merino has evolved into a premier all purpose sheep.

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Some of the greatest opportunities for primary producers are provided by the Australian Merino.

They have the ability to produce multiple income streams with a variety of options across a range of markets and production systems, from feedlots to organic.

But probably what is most exciting is the way the Merino has evolved over the last 10 to 15 years.

They have become a true dual-purpose breed through genetic improvement and have successfully shown how they can adapt to the modern grazier's enterprise.

The industry has worked hard on making sure the Merino has better lambing percentages and an improved ability to raise lambs.

And that, as we know, is where the money is made.

Not only are Merino ewes at the core of wool production, they play a key role in producing crossbred ewes for the booming prime lamb sector.

Australian Association of Stud Merino Breeders president Peter Meyer said genetics have really come "alive " in recent years and suggests producers should take a closer look at the Merino.

"They are terrific money makers in both wool and meat with Merino lamb and mutton fetching record saleyard prices in recent times," Mr Meyer said.

"They are also used as first-cross mothers with British breed rams and of course breeding first-cross ewes out of Border Leicester rams - the Merino ewe is so important in those two factors.

"A lot of mixed enterprise farmers use Merino ewes for their first-cross lamb operations."

He praised the breed for their terrific adaptation to the differing Australian climate and conditions.

"They are a breed of sheep and can thrive in a lot of areas," he said.

"They can perform in both high rainfall country down to very low rainfall, pastoral country."

In recent times many producers have adapted to eight-month shearing periods instead of the traditional 12.

The flexibility allows for easier management and provides the ultimate length for overseas spinners - 65 to 80mm.

"It has definitely become more popular, and there are some people that are even performing six-month shearing," Mr Meyer said.

"There has been a big emphasis in the Merino industry of having extra staple length so you can adapt to that six or eight-month shearing, whichever fits in best with the individual enterprise.

"But the beauty of it is, you can adapt it to your operation and it it provides a steady stream of income over 12 to 24 months."

The Merino wether has also 'grown up' and is becoming the unlikely hero in producers' enterprises, receiving some of the hottest competition at saleyards across the country.

Producers are turning off their wethers at a much earlier age than traditionally seen, being sold at six-months.

"You don't see many old wethers running around the paddocks these days," Mr Meyer said.

"The wether lamb has become very popular. The genetic improvement on the meat side of the Merino has been dramatic in the last five to 10 years.

"A lot more emphasis has been put onto body structure and size, measuring of the eye muscle and quicker growth rates, hence the opportunity to create a steady income stream by turning them off earlier."

Greater genetic selection has also contributed to the improvement in the Merino's wool quality, micron and characteristics.

"There are certainly a lot more Merinos around now with a really nourished, high yielding wool," Mr Meyer said.

Mr Meyer believes although Australia's sheep flock numbers have diminished due to the recent drought, the demand for mutton and lamb will drive people into wanting more Merino ewes to breed lambs.

"People forget the Merino is a very manageable animal," he said.

"You can run more Merino ewes than you can any other breed, for a lot less input.

"I see Merinos as the best money making animals that you can own."

For more facts and figures on the Merino visit www.merinos.com.au

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