SOUTH Africa is trying to keep one step ahead of Australian woolgrowers in the race to give global consumers ethically grown wool, according to guest speakers at a recent field day in Albury.
South African Merino breeders Henri and Adrian McNaughton told attendees at the Albury Charmac sheep field day last week they had not mulesed their own sheep for 15 years.
Woolgrowers are randomly audited by certified assessors in South Africa to ensure they are complying with the country's non-mulesing legislation.
Adrian McNaughton said mounting public pressure on Australian growers to abandon mulesing had forced South Africa to "jump ahead'' to protect their international wool market share.
Despite the mules-free clip for the past two seasons, South African growers were yet to see a price premium, he said.
South Africa's 49-million-kilogram wool clip had been stable for the past six years.
Woolgrowers had experienced a 3 per cent price drop over the past two selling seasons due to a Rift Valley fever outbreak.
Mutton prices had settled at 35 Rand/kg (413c/kg) – down from 45 Rand/kg (531c/kg).
Of the national wool clip, 55 per cent was in the 19-21 micron range, he said.
The McNaughton 19M unmulesed Merino clip averaged 885c/kg.
"Our Rand has depreciated in the past six months so we haven't felt the latest fall in the wool price,'' Mr McNaughton said.
He said predators were a major problem for the South African industry, with 500 animals killed daily by the lynx and black-backed jackal, costing growers 1.5 billion Rand a year.
The McNaughton family runs 800 spring and autumn lambing stud Charmac ewes in a 450mm rainfall environment.
They sell 150 rams a year, including 60 at an on-property sale, and run 200 beef breeders.
Henri McNaughton, who has a 55-year wool industry involvement, said the Charmac strain was 100 per cent Merino, based on Wanganella blood, unlike the composite Dohne and Prime SAMM.
He said the introduction of Charmac genetics to his own flock in the 1980s turned his enterprise "upside down'' for wool quality, clean breech, fertility and a plainer body.
Of the 40 on-property sales in South Africa last year, Charmac genetics were offered at 16.
Australian Charmac breeder Leon Martin, who hosted the field day, said adult polled and horned ewes averaged 18-20M and hoggets 16-17M.
The ewe lambs had inherited the clean breech trait, while adult ewes had lambed at 175 per cent, he said.
"The inheritance of the clean breech means exciting prospects for non-mulesing,'' he said.
"We have gone down that path because it was genetically available and it's practical.
"We are not pretending to be heroes, but we have this genetic opportunity and are encouraging people to run with it.''