What does it take to breed a ram that sells for $52,500?
According to Eilan Donan Merino stud’s Jock Macrae, it’s about setting a vision, and sticking to it.
And it was this vision that saw the Elphinstone-based stud’s ram, nicknamed ‘Harvey’, after renowned livestock nutritionist Peter Harvey, take out supreme exhibit of the more than 800 Merino and Poll Merinos entered in the Australian Sheep and Wool Show (ASWS) last year.
The ram, who was also nicknamed ‘Nobody’, because as Mr Macrae puts it, “nobody’s perfect”, had wool that measured 18.6 micron, 3.0 standard deviation, 16.1 per cent co-efficient of variation, 99.6pc comfort factor, 61 for curvature and 17.4 spinning fineness.
Mr Macrae said the ram stood out from a young age, so after winning supreme at Bendigo, he was sent to be auctioned at the Dubbo, NSW, Merino ram sale in August, where the hammer fell after a $52,500 bid from Trefusis Merino stud, Tasmania.
While Mr Macrae believed the ram was worthy of the price, he said he was blown away, particularly given his top price prior to the sale was only $8000.
“You’ve got to have a vision in your mind of what you want to breed, and if you keep aiming to achieve that, you’ll get closer and closer to it,” Mr Macrae said.
Eilan Donan’s big year came amid the rollout of a downsizing plan, which saw the stud disperse its commercial flock, and sell one of its two properties.
Now running only 500 stud ewes on just under 700 hectares of land, Mr Macrae said they are “still doing what we’ve always been doing, just on a smaller scale”.
“The economic driver on our old place was the commercial flock, yes we sold a few rams, but the big dollars came from the commercial flock, so that’s where most of our focus went,” he said.
“There were certain things I wanted to do in the stud, but we didn’t have the time to, so in theory, we should be able to spend more time on the stud sheep now.”
The fourth generation farmer said in over 100 years of breeding, not a lot has changed.
“Balance has always been our mantra, my father believed that a Merino sheep wasn’t just about wool, they can be a very valuable mutton sheep, and the cornerstone of any first-cross lamb job,” he said.
“We’ve always tried to breed a big, early maturing, plain-bodied sheep, and getting as much quality wool as we could.”
He said there was a period in the 1980s where everyone had to “get fine or get out”, which meant they shaved off about half a micron, but that allowed them to select for better, softer wools.
Mr Macrae said after a big 2017, he won’t be showing sheep at Bendigo this year.
He will, however, have an exhibitors tent, and said he already has handy sheep he’s keen to show next year.