NOT MANY Merino studs can offer the diversity of rams to satisfy clients wanting anything from plain bodied, heavy cutting fine to medium wool types right through to traditional ultra-fine types that also have the advantage of cutting seriously heavy fleeces.
This is what the Merriman family, Boorowa, NSW, has been able to achieve with their complementary Merrignee and Koonwarra studs, both registered for horned and Poll Merinos, operated at their Little Range property.
Studmaster Jono Merriman explained.
"We have the Merrignee stud which has a strong Merryville bloodline due to its establishment in 1990 with a one fifth share of Merryville Stud," Mr Merriman said.
"These merinos are ultrafine to fine wool sheep, with a micron ranging from 14-19 and wool that really suits the Italian market," he said.
"Generally the Merrignee ewes would weigh around 65-70kg and the maiden superfine wool ewes cut around that 7.5kg fleece.
"The maiden fine and fine-medium wool ewes cut around that 8kg fleece.
"We want to keep the traditional fine wool style going while not sacrificing cut, so we've made an effort to increase the fleece weight by getting a higher follicle count."
He said the superfine wool staple length is around 85-95 mm, suitable for the Italian market, and the fine wool is around the 100-110mm market.
On the other hand, Mr Merriman said the Koonwarra stud was more focused on providing larger, plainer bodied type sheep that can also tolerate wet climatic conditions.
"The Koonwarra rams target the fine to medium wool market, with a micron range of 17-21."
"The Koonwarra sheep are big framed types with the ewes body weight around the 80kg mark and cutting a tick under 10 kg fleeces for the last two groups of maiden ewes," Mr Merriman said.
He said the 2018 drop maiden ewes averaged a cut of 9.6 kgs, while the 2019 drop maidens averaged a cut of 9.8kg.
The family has run the Merrignee stud since its inception in 1990 while they bought into the Koonwarra stud in 2006 and became the outright owners in 2013.
This dual stud program has given C.T. Merriman & Son the ability to offer two different merino genetics to their clients.
"Koonwarra was originally set up by the Williams family at Crookwell in 1947, before it moved to Canowindra," Mr Merriman said.
From there he said in 2006 the family had the opportunity to buy into Koonwarra and move it to their farm at Boorowa," he said.
He said the purchase meant the family could offer rams suitable for all wool growing areas of Australia.
"The Merrignee sheep have a really good following both locally and in the traditional fine wool areas of NSW and Victoria.
"The Koonwarra sheep on the other hand go out to the plains country a bit more, with clients in the Riverina and the Central West as well as a very good local district clientele and in the Southern Tablelands and Monaro areas."
The Merino studs are just a component of a busy farming enterprise at Little Range, which also incorporates commercial Merino sheep, commercial and stud Poll Hereford cattle and a cropping program.
Within the sheep enterprise the focus is solely on merino sheep. "We have a strong wool focus but these Merino sheep do very well from a meat perspective too," Jono said.
The property is around 1950 hectares, with rainfall of 670mm on average and 500m above sea level.
Mr Merriman said the property was subject to both the heat of the Central West and the cold of the elevated areas of the south-west slopes, but usually not the extreme conditions of those areas.
Around 20 per cent of the property is cropped each year, with a strong focus on dual purpose crops.
Mr Merriman said the development of suitable grazing crops has been a real winner for them, especially in providing early winter feed.
"Over winter it can get cold around here and we don't see a lot of pasture growth and that is where the grazing crops have become really handy".
"It is now a really important part of our system being able to get the sheep onto these grazing crops, which they do really well on."
Mr Merriman believes the secret to getting the best out of the grazing crops was not to skimp on inputs.
"We've learnt you have to put in to get a good result, and that means a decent amount of fertiliser and urea to get the most production from of the crops.
"It means higher input costs but it more than pays you back with the value, both as feed and then as a crop at the end of the year.
"There is also the benefit of having the stubbles over the summer period which help to run the livestock enterprises and lighten the load on the pastures over the summer"
He said the rainfall patterns meant in good years there could be quite a short period with a feed gap.
"If the summer rains come, we can even start sowing the dual-purpose crops from February," he said.
He said the crops and stubbles, combined with improved pastures, sown down with cocksfoot, clovers and rye grasses meant with normal summer weather conditions, hand feeding is kept to a minimum.
In terms of lambing patterns, the Koonwarra ewes are lambing now, May-June, with a late autumn/early winter date suiting the ability to get lambs ready for sale later in the year.
The Merrignee ewes lamb three months later, with a late winter/early spring, Aug/Sept drop.
Lambs within the prime 17-25 kilogram carcass weight bracket are sold over the hooks, but larger wether lambs are sold later to the Wagga Wagga sale yard as a rule.
The Little Range wool shed is a well utilised piece of infrastructure. "We have the sheep in the shed six times a year," Mr Merriman said with a laugh.
The high volume through the shed is accounted for with different shearing times for the two stud and the two flock sheep groups of ewes which have different shearing to fit in with their lambing times.
Decisions are made on what to do with sheep outside the core breeding flock, such as wethers, based on the season and prices. "We are little bit flexible there, but we look at how the season is going and how we are situated for feed," Mr Merriman said.
There is also the option to contain 3,250 head and feed through lick feeders and hay racks should the season dictate it.
"We have established drought lots with five pens with capacity of 650 ewes in each pen," Mr Merriman explained.
However, generally in normal season patterns drought is not a major problem.
Mr Merriman said the family run their farm conservatively regarding stocking rates to protect the pastures and environment, and to allow their stock to grow out to their full potential.
Due to biosecurity he said they don't trade in stock but rely on self-replacing flocks to increase numbers when seasons allow.
On the lambing front, he said percentages for both studs were well over 100pc when twins were factored in at time of scanning.
"You can have some events outside your control like a cold snap at lambing time, but over the years we are around the 100pc mark.
"We have great conception rates with the ewes, it's the weather patterns during lambing that dictate the final lamb survival percentage."
The pregnant ewes will be given the pick of the feed.
At present the Merrignee ewes are enjoying the improved pasture or grazing canola, while the Koonwarra ewes are in smaller paddocks, most with treelined shelter belts, while lambing down.
Late winter / early spring is a busy period for the Merrignee / Koonwarra team.
They hold two separate open days and ram sales annually, with Koonwarra's 2020 dates being September 18 and 23 respectively and Merrignee's being October 2 and 9.
Mr Merriman said the family had resisted the temptation to combine the sales.
"It would be a way to get it all over and done in one day, but we don't think we would get enough of a chance to connect with all of our clients."