Shearer shortage not swaying breed choice

Shedding sheep are proving popular amongst sheep producers, but experts say it's not to do with shearer shortage

Sheepmeat
DECISIONS: Merino producers are sticking to what they know and what they do best says industry experts despite issues with shearers and a volatile wool market.

DECISIONS: Merino producers are sticking to what they know and what they do best says industry experts despite issues with shearers and a volatile wool market.

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The industry's current shearer shortage is not influencing breed choices, but the wool industry is volatile and shedding sheep are an alternative.

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Shearer shortages and a volatile wool market are not influencing breed changes amongst Merino producers, but shedding sheep adaptability and aptitude in tough, drought prone country are increasing their popularity.

This is according to industry experts who say most Merino breeders, although frustrated by the issues surrounding the wool harvester shortage, have no plans to swap their production systems.

"I have had one client that said it wouldn't take much for him to shift over to shedders, but everyone else that I deal with is very much sticking to their program," Nutrien Ag Solutions central west wool manager Frank Roberts said.

"It's important to look at the reflective of where everything sits in terms of the industry.

"At West Wyalong, good Merino ewes made $380 and the best of the Aussie Whites and Dorpers are making around $450 on AuctionsPlus," Mr Roberts said.

"So yes, there is a market above that, but then quality sheep will always make money."

He said for producers wanting to change over to shedding sheep like Aussie Whites or Dorpers, they too come with their own challenges.

"When it comes to fences, shedding types of sheep aren't very sympathetic," he said.

"They pose a difficult physical aspect - they are different to handle and are incredibly strong.

"The industry is changing, everyone is conscious that sheep are getting bigger and everyone wants big sheep, but whether the industry can handle that in terms a shearing point of view is yet to be determined."

At the end of 2020 a major online selling platform investigated data from 2016 from to present, distinguishing selling trends and prices for shedding breed sheep.

According to the data collected online listings for shedding breeds increased significantly in 2020, with 51,105 head listed, accounting for 17 per cent of all terminal breeds offered and up five per cent on 2019.

Nutrien Ag livestock manager western NSW Luke Scales attributes the increased popularity of the shedding breeds to their adaptability to harsh country, but said it stemmed back to the 1990s or 2000s, when the seasons started to dry up and wool's reserve price scheme crashed.

"The general statement about producers going out of Merinos to a breed like Dorpers is somewhat true, but in my locality, it is more about seasonal variance rather than issues with shearers," Mr Scales said.

"The biggest changing point for the producers in the western division was those that couldn't make a dollar out of selling Merinos.

"They stepped into Damara ewes and all of a sudden they went from selling a $30 Merino to an $80 Damara ewe to the live export trade. I believe that was the start of the shedding sheep type in our part of the country and generally across most of Australia."

But Mr Roberts warned shedding breeds are not the answer for the industry.

"If you join a first-cross ewe to a shedding breed they still require shearing because they will still attract fly," he said.

"And if everyone goes to a 100pc shedding sheep, it becomes purely a meat job.

We can't all support the one football side - it becomes a flood.

"I still believe there is strength in the Merinos, especially while the season is so good."

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