Getting lumped with 100 cent a kilogram clean price penalty on woolgrower Tony Butler’s 200-bale wool clip was the catalyst for a shearing overall.
The huge discount because of the staple length contributed towards the farmer from Newstead, in central Victoria, to rein in the flock’s fleece growth by shearing majority of the 8000 Merino sheep every six months instead of annually.
The move has been welcomed by processors in Europe and China who have increased calls to Australian woolgrowers for a more consistent supply of shorter staple length wool.
“I have had confirmation in the market place the product I am now producing and selling what the market wants, and I have not suffered a price penalty as a result,” Mr Butler said.
The perception shorter wool, 50-70 millimetres, would be discounted was quashed by European topmakers, Modiano Australia, who supported the Butler’s management shift.
Modiano Australia wool buyer Geoff Wild said the industry’s capability to handle shorter staple wool had improved dramatically in the past decade.
“The market fundamentals have changed,” Mr Wild said.
“The discount for these short 58mm wool a decade ago compared to the current market has tightened right up.
“Because of better machinery, good European mills can process those shorter wools and achieve the top length they require - 15 years ago they couldn’t.”
The global trend away from worsted woollen suits toward informal styles has increased demand for knitted garments.
Due to the short staple lengths required to make wool top for knitted garments, Chinese wool topmakers had resorted to cutting long staple fleece wools in half to provide the short pieces needed for knitwear machinery.
“I have stud masters growing me more wool and I got frustrated sending 110mm of wool off young ewes to auction and copping price penalties in the neck,” Mr Butler said.
“We had to bite the bullet. They say once you change, you’ll never go back – I’m convinced.”
The passionate livestock producer manages a mixed enterprise across the family’s 2600 hectare farm which includes 1620ha of crops and 8000 sheep.
The Butlers have completed four shearings under the new program, which includes shearing the entire flock in autumn and ewes again prior to Christmas.
All ewes are retained to join and the wethers are grown out. Older ewes are joined to a Border Leicester or White Suffolk and sold scanned-in-lamb, which Mr Butler said was a simple way of value adding.
The Hazeldean-blood flock averages 19 micron and cuts about 7kg for annually shorn wethers and 3.5kg for the twice yearly shorn ewes.
Wool growth amongst younger flock has increased by 10pc and the quality has improved with higher staple strength.
Mr Butler said the exposure to the market twice a year meant there was better cash flow injected in the business.
One of the major benefits has been the improvement to animal husbandry with crutching now conducted on a needs basis and reduction in chemical use for fly and lice control.
The improved body condition post shearing has contributed to increased lambing percentages.
Many farmers remain sour to the idea given the difficulty in finding scarce shearing teams and the high cost of labour.
But to the Butler family, the decision was based on trying to best meet the demands of the wool market and to improve overall flock productivity.
Their efforts have been rewarded with the recent sale of 72-bales sold at auction in Melbourne for a top price of 1290c/kg, paid for 17.1m, 69mm staple length. The average gross proceeds across the entire clip was $2100/bale.
Mr Butler estimates the shearing change had lifted the wool cut of his 4000 young sheep by 600gram/head, adding nearly $28000 to the wool cheque annually at the average wool price paid this week of 1162c/kg.
“They do better with less wool,” he said.
“Wool is a parasite, if you remove the parasite from the animal he does better - shearing twice a year removes the handicap from the animal.
“I’m in the business of growing and harvesting wool so if we can do that more efficiently and more profitably then I am interested.”