WESTERN District stud principal Tom Silcock is undergoing dramatic trials on the family's property in a bid to lift production of their Merino flock while producing a premium wool product.
Always one to embrace change, the principal of The Mountain Dam Merino, at Telangatuk, was one of the first producers to jump at the opportunity to supply Australian Wool Network's recently-acquired Hysport International wool mill, at Seaford, on the outskirts of Melbourne.
The concept is everything Mr Silcock believed in – an integrated business which promotes the production process from selecting Merino genetics to processing the wool.
"If the two ends of the industry are committed to working together and building better relationships, then you see industry improvements that benefit both sides," he said.
To begin with, the operation has undergone a trial, shearing 700 head of mixed-aged Merinos, to ensure the mob meet the mill's specifications. The 1250-hectare property joins 4500 Merinos annually.
Mr Silcock, who is a shareholder of AWN, is hoping to sell his wool bales to the Merino Snug market, highly successful Merino and possum products processed at Hysport and sold at Australian and New Zealand airports.
Hysport has been buying mainly 17-24 micron wool, which is ideal for The Mountain Dam who produce on average 17M clip.
Mr Silcock said selling direct to a processing mill was integral to managing your flock according to their specifications and also meant a premium price-tag at point of sale.
"Most people – because they don't have a choice – grow wool and send it to Melbourne to get tested and it is what it is," he said.
"We used to target our wool to very known mill specifications and the beauty of that meant we could target what made the most money and we could manage our flock accordingly – because we grew, harvested and delivered to their requirements meant we were paid accordingly.
"Price is a critical component but price is secondary to having someone who actually wants your product which gives you the confidence to grow it."
The Mountain Dam's wool being supplied to Hysport is 52-55 millimetres in length, made possible by the operation's trial move to an annual split shear.
"We've been shearing our lambs for a number of years at eight months growth and then again six months later," Mr Silcock said.
"We know shorter fibres are sought after because last year we sold all our wool in early February, shorn in November, the wool was six months growth and measured 17M and 65-70mm in length – it made 100 cents more than the same spec wool that was longer."
He said the factors to split shear were economically driven.
"There is various industry predictions on the effect it has on fleece weight and it is believed that it improves cut by 16-18pc if you shear twice a year," Mr Silcock said.
"Another prediction, which is harder to assess, is that it reduces animal mortalities and improves lambing percentage because sheep aren't carrying a full fleece of wool they are less prone to health issues and lamb in more sheltered conditions because they feel the cold."
While wool staples were getting longer and giving producers the opportunity to cut lengths in half, Mr Silcock said there was also a market that did not penalise shorter fibres.
"I know our young sheep produce 10mm a month and it is reasonable to assume we can't produce that much through the summer," he said.
"We are just putting our toe in the water so we haven't committed our entire flock to it and learning what our sheep can and can't do so we can adjust our management accordingly."