Man with a vision


Sheep
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BRUCE Barnes-Webb, one of the new crop of up-and-coming stud Dohne breeders, is enjoying himself. When we meet at his sparse Echuca property, a long way from his South African birthplace, he has a grin smeared across his face as he leads the way around his gleaming new embryo transfer station and shearing shed.

BRUCE Barnes-Webb, one of the new crop of up-and-coming stud Dohne breeders, is enjoying himself.

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When we meet at his sparse Echuca property, a long way from his South African birthplace, he has a grin smeared across his face as he leads the way around his gleaming new embryo transfer station and shearing shed.

He keeps up a steady banter, heavily inflicted with a South African drawl, telling me about the consistency he has achieved in his flock, the softness of the wool and his sheep’s incredible doing ability.

“Paddymelons, weeds – you name it, they will eat it,” Mr Barnes-Webb says, grinning.

In the wool shed he runs his hands proudly through a two-year-old ram fleece, encouraging me to feel the crimpled white fibre and compare it to some penned ewes.

He then pulls out three samples of wool – one of which is Merino – and gushes that some people are now unable tell the difference between the breeds.

Since establishing DD Dohnes Pty Ltd, a consortium of Australian and South African breeders, Mr Barnes-Webb has been on a mission to produce genetics unrelated to anything already in Australia and cement a foothold in the tightly held Merino market.

In February he topped the strong fleece market, and the fact it was with Dohne wool certainly doesn’t escape him. However, rather than make a song and dance about it he’s simply pleased the trade knows what it’s on about.

In helping to blaze a path for Dohnes in Australia, Mr Barnes-Webb is well aware that the stubborn resistance to the Dohne Merino can be worn down only by producing the goods within our own commercial flocks.

As a result, DD Dohnes has focused marketing on commercial clientele and in return has been rewarded with strong ram sale results in 2006 and 2007, with more than 160 rams being sold to commercial breeders.

In his own operation, Mr Barnes-Webb has been amazed at the progress of his commercial flock, and despite battling the harshest drought in living memory he has built his stud herd to 300 purebred ewes and developed a 3000-head commercial flock in under four years.

Giving support to the notion that Dohnes thrive in tough conditions, DD Dohnes’ lambing rates hit 120 per cent in the past two years without any supplementary feeding, and at weaning lambs weighed between 32 and 38 kilograms.

“I like to look at them as a Merinos on steroids,” Mr Barnes-Webb recounts with satisfaction, reflecting on the consistently improving productivity figures.

Best of both worlds

The Barnes-Webb family emigrated from South Africa to Australia in 2006.

Mr Barnes-Webb, a large landholder and Dohne stud breeder in South Africa, had visited Australia when the first shipment of Dohne embryos was bought by West Australian farmers.

This short visit not only opened his eyes to the possibilities for Dohnes in Australia, but left a very positive impression on the man.

Back home on his South African property he started trawling the internet for anything on the country that had captured his heart, and it was not long before he hooked up with the DD Dohnes consortium and was asked to manage the 2500-hectare mixed cropping and Dohne enterprise that he now runs.

Since moving he has focused on building his commercial and stud numbers, and he continues to make an annual trek back across the Indian Ocean for his South African stud’s annual ram sale – a stud he established in 1973.

Mr Barnes-Webb says he finds most interesting is the level of intrigue people have for Dohne sheep in Australia and the genuine way people have helped him.

He knows he is treading a fine line with the Merino industry and continues to battle to have his wool sold on the open market (“Why can’t the trade decide?”), but having some pretty big Merino players (Uardry and Roseville Park, for example) start up there own Dohne studs has been encouraging.

And with the mulesing deabte running rife, Mr Barnes-Webb insists the breed has another feather in its cap – not requring mulesing, making the breed at the forefront for producers selecting for bare breeched animals.

This year is the 10th year for the dual-purpose sheep, and while Mr Barnes-Webb is a relatively new player with only two years of Australian Dohne experience under his belt, in 2007 he topped the Dubbo ram sale and things are on track for further expansion.

According to Mr Barnes-Webb, where the Dohne can make its mark is by being the only dual-purpose breed to offer Merino breeders the opportunity to infuse their flocks with hybrid vigour without the risks of contamination from dark and medulated fibres.

“It is all about giving producers that alternative,” Mr Barnes-Webb pushes when asked about the benefits Dohne sheep can offer Merino breeders.

In South Africa, Mr Barnes-Webb said, it was common for Dohne-Merino producers to target the meat market when prices were high and then switch to the wool market should that market lift.

“It is about maximising our returns per hectare,” Mr Barnes-Webb said.

Last year DD Dohnes marketed F1 lambs that topped $95 off-shears ($3.50/kg) to Southern Meats, and recent wool sales from purebred Dohne Merinos saw the company sell 18-micron wool (AAAM) at 6.60/kg. With meat attributes at a consistently high level, the next push for DD Dohnes is getting the wool to an even better standard.

To improve the fibres and minimise dust and moisture, Mr Barnes-Webb last year bought one of South Africa’s top-priced rams from Johan de Kock of Bredarsdorp, in the Western Cape region of South Africa – a ram prized for his highly nutritious white wool with well-defined crimp.

And with the first drop on the ground, it is safe to say that another win for DD Dohnes is just around the corner.

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