Shearing date a make or break for wool quality

Lambing impacts wool fibre measurement on ewes

Sheep
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Research shows lambing causes a wool fibre to 'fine up' by up to 2.3 microns.

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Elders Greg Sawyer with Matthew Coddrington.

Elders Greg Sawyer with Matthew Coddrington.

Simply changing the shearing date has lifted Roseville Park Merino Stud's performance by 10 per cent in wool production, body condition scores and increased lamb survival, while roughly doubling staple strength.

Roseville Park has been regularly involved in studies by the Dubbo-based Elders central-west NSW district wool manager and livestock production advisor Greg Sawyer, whose research in conjunction with the University of Queensland proved the impact of shearing dates on wool quality.

The results, published in a peer reviewed journal last week, showed that lambing caused a wool fibre fining by up to 2.3 microns.

If that abrupt change in fibre diameter happened at the wrong time, the cost to wool producers could be significant.

"If your ewe isn't producing a consistent fibre because she lambed halfway between shearings and the staple breaks in the centre, you've actually got two short fibres as far as buyers are concerned," Mr Sawyer said.

"There's currently up to an 80 cent a kilogram difference between wool that is tender and wool with a high staple strength."

The key was to ensure that the fining occurred at either end of the fibre, which he said could be achieved by adjusting the shearing date for ewes.

"A month to six weeks prior to lambing is a really good time to shear if you're only shearing once a year because the position of break moves from initially being at the base of the wool staple in the first two months to the top of the staple by the time the ewe is shorn again," Mr Sawyer said.

In another research study co-authored by Mr Sawyer this year, twice-yearly shearing showed added wool-quality benefits and lamb survival rates, something Matthew and Cherie Coddington of Roseville Park Merino Stud have put into practice at their Dubbo property over the last five years.

"We collaborate with Greg and the University of Sydney, because of how much we learn from it and the gains their research brings to our business," Mr Coddington said.

Roseville Park conducts performance recording on 1800 rams a year and the 8000-head stud has reaped massive gains since changing from shearing once a year to twice - two months before lambing and two months before joining.

Mr Coddington said the sheep averaged about 4.2 kilos of 17.9 micron wool each shearing.

"Pretty well everything';s improved by around 10 per cent," Mr Coddington said. "We got a 10pc increase in fleece production through the year, 10pc increase in body weight and condition score, and 10pc more lambs weaned," he said.

In addition, Roseville Park's staple strength nearly doubled from 28 Newtons per kilotex to 52- 58N/ktex, while the percentage of the clip that went into fleece wool rather than secondary lines rose from 75pc of the clip to 95pc.

While twice-a-year shearing eliminated the detrimental impact of lambing on wool quality, Mr Sawyer said lamb producers would likely also see benefits.

"A shorn ewe eats more and that nutrition flows onto her lamb, resulting in a higher ewes BCS and lamb body weight thus increasing greater chances of lamb survival," he said.

"Getting the timing of your shearing right will have an influence not only just on your wool income, but also on your lamb production."

Mr Sawyer said that even when twice-a-year shearing was impractical within individual farm businesses, the research outcomes made it worthwhile for producers to reconsider its timing.

Mr Sawyer is currently studying for his Ph.D. part time at the University of Sydney under the guidance of Professor Luciano Gonzalez and is researching new science methodology in to lifting lambing success which is funded by the MLA Donor Company and is supported by Elders.

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