In the McRae family’s woolshed, there’s a photo hung up of ‘Big Macca’, the first ram they ever entered into the showring.
Big Macca blew away judges at shows, and took home multiple supreme ribbons.
But his biggest accolade was winning Victorian Merino Pair at the Australian Sheep and Wool Show (ASWS) in Bendigo, and then runner up in the national competition.
This was all in 1997, the first and only year the ram competed in the showring, but he was kept busy in his years to follow, becoming an important stud sire in Oakbank Merino and Poll Merino’s flock, based at Gre Gre North.
Warren McRae, who runs the operation with wife Kim and son Jack, said Big Macca lived until he was 10 years-old, and would have stood up against any ram in the showring today.
“He was big and had plenty of good quality wool on him,” Mr McRae said.
“A good stud sire has authority, and he was always the biggest and bossiest.”
He said Big Macca is a representation of the sort of ram they are still trying to breed.
“We strive to breed big sheep, with long bodies, that stand up well, and cut plenty of good wool,” he said.
He said facts and figures are an important element of many sheep operations, but they prefer to focus on the top four or five qualities.
“The more you look at the little things, the more likely you are to lose some of the bigger, more important things,” he said.
“We think that simple’s better sometimes.”
Big Macca coming first in the ASWS Victorian Merino Pair competition, and then second nationally, was a trend that the stud followed on three other occasions.
They have taken out the Victorian championship four times, including last year, which was the first year they had been successful with a polled pair.
They are still yet to win the national competition.
Mr McRae said participating in shows, both locally and on a state level, is an important way of benchmarking your flock.
“You put your best up against the best of the best, and if you can compete against that, then you know you’re doing alright,” he said.
“If you don’t put your sheep up against others, how are you meant to know how yours are going?
“Once you think your sheep are the best, you’ll start going backwards.”
He said they normally send up to a dozen sheep to Bendigo, and that this year’s team is looking good, particularly a ram that recently took out supreme exhibit at the Hay Sheep Show, NSW.
Since incorporating a Poll Merino stud into their operation six years ago, they’ve sent more polled animals in to compete.
“Our clients started wanting polled rams, so we decided to register a polled stud, but we still had clients wanting horns, so now we run about half and half,” he said.
It’s taken time to get their polled flock up to scratch, but they believe they are finally getting there now.
“Twenty years ago, there were 75 per cent Merinos out there and 25pc Poll Merinos out there, so there wasn’t the best selection, but now it’s the opposite, so you have a lot better genetics to choose from,” he said.
Third generation farmer Jack McRae has been getting more involved in his family’s stud, working full-time on the farm.
He studied at Longerenong Agricultural College, and completed work experience at a sheep stud in South Australia, and was able to take home knowledge and skills related to wool classing and sheep selection.
The family is pleased to be involved such a positive time for the sheep and wool industry, and hope this translates into success at their upcoming ram sale in October.