Farm Online

Burrawang studmaster's a game changer

SHARING HIS SKILLS: Wicus Cronje has brought his expertise in the Dorper breed to Australia, helping producers improve breeding decisions.

This is branded content for Burrawang Dorpers and White Dorpers.

WICUS Cronje has not only made a big impact at the country's largest Dorper stud, Burrawang, he's also been a game changer for the Dorper breed in Australia.

With a lifetime of experience in the Dorper breed, having grown up in the Cronje Dorper stud which was established in South Africa in 1953, he has brought a wealth of knowledge to the industry.

"His dad was determined that Wicus would learn to identify good lamb carcases, so Wicus spent most of his school holidays taking loads of lambs to the abattoir where he could see how they yielded in the boning room," Graham Pickles, from Burrawanga Dorpers, said.

By 2009, Mr Cronje had become a well-regarded breed inspector and judge, and Mr Pickles invited him to class Burrawang's ewes and to help select sires to match to those ewes for the stud's breeding program.

He visited each year for classing and travelled throughout western areas of NSW and Victoria where Dorpers were already established.

"He saw how the Dorper was ideally suited to grazing conditions in those areas but, on visiting some of Burrawang's commercial ram customers, Wicus observed that most breeders' ewe selection was very narrowly focused on shedding," Mr Pickles said.

"He explained that this was not necessarily the best selection criteria to use for desired carcase and reproduction traits."

Soon after, Malcolm Brady, of BRC agents, who had a large number of clients who were using Dorpers in prime lamb enterprises, asked Mr Cronje to help guide his customers in the correct selection of ewes to be retained in their flocks.

"At that time, most Dorpers were crossbreds of Merino or Damara and were unfairly criticised for lacklustre carcase quality," Mr Pickles said.

"This changed over a few years as Wicus went from farm to farm teaching people about the breed and how to select the correct animals to retain.

"By 2014, abattoirs in these areas began to see what the Dorper breed was capable of in terms of carcase quality and superior meat yields."

QUALITY SHEEP: With 2500 full-blood ewes, Burrawang is the largest Dorper stud in Australia.

Initially, when Mr Cronje visited a farm he would divide the ewe flock into keepers and sellers, with all the offspring from the keeper half assessed for breeding on and all the offspring from the sellers going through the yards or over the hooks.

"Within three years the quality of animals was vastly superior and had moved to very high yielding lamb production that became first choice on the abattoirs list of suppliers."

During this time Mr Cronje decided to apply for Australian residency, which ended up being a very long process.

On visiting some of Burrawang's commercial ram customers, Wicus observed that most breeders' ewe selection was very narrowly focused on shedding. He explained that this was not necessarily the best selection criteria to use for desired carcase and reproduction traits.

- Graham Pickles, Burrawang Dorper stud

"Trying to get the immigration department to agree that Australia needed another sheep classer, especially one who was 52 years old, was not easy," Mr Pickles said.

"Given Australia's history, it came as no surprise that most people, even within the agricultural industry, were unfamiliar with the significant difference between effective selection for meat sheep and carcase quality traits, and selection for wool sheep and wool quality traits."

The stud contacted Barnaby Joyce, the then Minister for Agriculture, whose letter of support helped the Department of Immigration focus on the detail of Wicus' residency application and to see the potential that he and the Dorper breed had to transform large areas of Australia into sustainable meat production, Mr Pickles said, and the Cronje family received permanent residency and immigrated in 2015.

EXTENSIVE KNOWLEDGE: Burrawang studmaster Wicus Cronje continues to travel throughout the country helping graziers create sustainable meat sheep businesses.

"Finding someone who was so well qualified and passionately dedicated to teaching breeders how to consistently produce fat lambs from this kind of country, was a game changer," he said.

Mr Brady is now one of the principals at the Burrawang Stud, and said Mr Cronje had made a big impact on the breed.

"Abattoirs regularly report record meat yields from these wild harvest lambs, while feedlot operators report record breaking weight gains from the correct type of Dorper," he said.

Mr Cronje is now studmaster at Burrawang, based at Ootha in the Central West of NSW.

With 2500 full-blood ewes, Burrawang is the largest Dorper stud in Australia, and Mr Cronje continues to travel throughout the country helping graziers create sustainable meat sheep businesses.

His wife Christi works full-time as a social worker.

Their older son is married with two young children and operates his own sheep scanning business, their younger son lives with his wife and daughter in Victoria, where he manages a large table grape farm, and their daughter is studying physiotherapy at university.

"We arrived as five and have now become a very happy family of 10," Mr Cronje said.

HIGH PRODUCTION: Abattoirs regularly report record meat yields from wild harvest lambs, while feedlot operators report record breaking weight gains from the correct type of Dorper.

He is also sharing his knowledge with the wider industry through the production of four videos which explain the history of the Dorper breed and how to select the correct ram and ewes for production.

The videos, which have had more than 21,300 unique views in the past seven months, are available on Burrawang's YouTube channel and website.

"People who are interested in finding out more about shedding meat sheep, will find these videos highly informative," Mr Pickles said.

This is branded content for Burrawang Dorpers and White Dorpers.