At the invitation of the president of the Russian National Association of Sheep Breeders (RNASB), Mikhail Egorov, Chris and Beth Bowman from Hay travelled to Russia to inspect and give feedback on the recently developed Russian Meat Merino.
During his time as manager and studmaster at Uardry stud, Hay, Mr Bowman built a strong relationship with Mr Egorov from when he purchased Uardry genetics for export to Russia.
The Bowmans visited six farms in the Stavropol region (1000km south of Moscow) as well as the Institute of Sheep and Goat Breeding and a new wool processing facility in Cherkessk.
“I also gave master classes on Merino selection, structure, wool and meat attributes for breeders who travelled from several provinces,” Mr Bowman said.
According to Mikhail Egorov, the Russia Merino industry has made great advances in lifting wool yield from 50 per cent in 1990 to around 68pc, reducing micron from 26 to 22 and improving testing procedures.
Mr Egorov said the introduction of Uardry genetics in 2004, along with other Australian bloodlines, made a great contribution to the development of the modern Merino in Russia.
“The Russian Merino industry in line with other Merino producing countries around the world is moving away from the traditional Merino towards a more dual-purpose sheep,” Mr Bowman said.
“Breeders and scientists have collaborated to produce the Russian Meat Merino which comprises 70pc meat and 30pc wool attributes.”
However, he observed while the Russian Merino had a sound base from which to breed, improvement was needed on style, crimp definition and lock structure to successfully carry wool weight on the plainer bodied sheep being bred.
“I also impressed on the Russian breeders that it was important in their very cold winters to select for width of loin, meat below the tail (or twist) and width of brisket as this type of sheep will fatten much faster than tall narrow-bodied sheep,’ Mr Bowman said.
“While there is currently no trade between Russia and Australia sheep producers, Russia is working on health protocols to re-establish trade with Australia.”
There are 1.5 million Merinos in Russia as a result of the 1990s wool crash but the Russian government is supporting the RNASB to lift production again.
“It was interesting to see breeders are being encouraged to grow wool and support Russian woollen mills,” he said. “Many Merinos are managed in small flocks by shepherds with a noticeable lack of fences with many shedded as it can reach minus 40 degrees Celsius in the Stavropol region.”