A move from wool to meat sheep is paying off for a southern NSW family.
Lindsay Picker with his wife Anne and three sons Aaron, Tom and Neil have long been renowned for their Merino wool production at Pleasant View, Binda, but in recent years sheep numbers have been divided to take advantage of enticing meat sheep prices.
And while Merinos still play an important part in their enterprise, wool has gone from being 80 per cent of their total income to levels just above 20pc.
"When I first took over the place, 35 to 40 years ago, wool was 80pc of our income. It remained 80pc right through to the turn of the century when it dropped back to between 50 and 60pc," Mr Picker said.
"Now days it would be lucky to be 25pc of our total income."
In fact wool is their third largest revenue coming in behind lambs (including Merino lambs) at 38.5pc, cattle 26pc, wool 23pc and mutton holds the smallest share at 12.5pc.
Lamb and mutton combined make just over half of their income at 51pc.
To compare the Picker's figures nation-wide, in the mid 80s wool made up 90pc of all the revenue in the sheep industry in Australia and these days it is sitting around 40pc of all revenue.
"When dad passed away wool was about 35pc of our income. He didn't think it would be possible that we would survive 12 months - he just couldn't understand how you could get along without a wool cheque bringing most of the income in," Mr Picker said.
"He couldn't grasp that protein was worth so much money."
These days at Pleasant View they run just enough Merino sheep to breed an adequate amount of first-cross ewes for themselves.
Mr Picker said one of the biggest hurdles they have with Merinos is labour.
"You only have to keep your finger on the pulse for the first four months with lambs from first-cross ewes, working on keeping your lambs going in the right direction for that time - then they are gone.
You only have to keep your finger on the pulse for the first four months with first-cross enterprise, working on keeping your lambs going in the right direction for that time - then they are gone- Lindsay Picker, Binda, NSW
"Whereas Merinos, you can never take your finger off the pulse.
"On top of that first-cross ewes are easy to look after."
But comprehensive long-term data suggests a Merino enterprise can still match it with a protein focussed operation.
Principal consultant of Agrivet Business Consulting at Hamilton, Vic, Dr Graham Lean, said in the last five years self-replacing Merino flocks have become incredibly profitable.
Dr Lean calculated gross margins of different agricultural enterprises, including an analysis on a five-year life span of a self-replacing Merino ewe and prime lamb enterprise, shorn once every 12-months with an average lambing percentage of 75pc for both over a 12-month period.
According to findings, as of April last year, fine Merino enterprises will realise a gross margin of $75 per dry sheep equivalent (DSE) compared to a prime lamb enterprise which will achieve a gross margin of $69 per DSE.
"This is because not only do they have significant incomes from wool, but also from meat," Dr Lean said.
"It's not fully appreciated how money can be generated in a Merino operation. With the price of mutton and surplus sheep sales it's very attractive."
At present, the Picker family run about 4200 ewes at Pleasant View - 2000 crossbreds and 2200 Merinos.
"We still run the same number of sheep we did 40 years ago, albeit it with less Merinos, but still produce the same number of bales of wool," Mr Picker said.
"This is because now we are running bigger wool cutters and the ewes are fed a lot better. They are cutting what wethers would normally cut. When we shore the 2200 Merinos we ended up with about 85 bales of wool."
Mr Picker said a couple of years ago they were aiming to run 5000 sheep, with a goal to achieve that in 2023-24.
But with their change in direction, Mr Picker said they will hit that target earlier than expected.
"I think we will be joining 5000 ewes all up this year, advancing a lot quicker than we originally thought," he said.
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