The Hillden Poll Dorset stud is celebrating 50 years of breeding this year - but not as they had hoped.
Due to COVID-19, the planned showcasing of sheep at the major shows has been shelved and alternative marketing plans developed. Plans are underway to hold a field day and ram sale - whether that be on-property, online, or both.
The Hillden stud, established at Bannister near Crookwell in the NSW southern tablelands, is operated by stud principal, Brian Frost, wife Lorraine, and their sons James and Anthony and respective wives, Pip and Kristen.
The stud flock of 700 ewes is run alongside a commercial flock of about 3500 Border Leicester-Merino cross ewes, as well as 80 to 100 head of Angus cattle. The original flock was established in 1969 and was registered in 1970 from ewes purchased locally and rams from Broughton, Elouera and Florina studs. Over the years they have bought rams from other leading studs, as well as using a heavy dose of Hillden genetics.
In previous years the majority of the stud rams sold each year would be shown and sold at the Australasian Poll Dorset Championships in Bendigo. Due to the cancellation of the show, the stud rams will 'probably' be added into the stud's on-property sale. Hillden offers around 150 rams at its on-property ram sale including 20 stud rams. Mr Frost said they would send a team of rams to the NSW Dorset championships in Cowra, NSW, in August, if it goes ahead.
The majority of this year's stud rams were sired by Hillden 122.16 (reserve senior champion at the NSW Dorset championships in 2017) and Hillden 860.17 (reserve junior champion at the Australasian Dorset championships in 2018.
Hillden rams are bred for overall correctness and muscling ability along with trueness to the Dorset type. The aim was to breed rams of a moderate size, with "ample length and lots of meat" on their carcase, Mr Frost said. He said their Stock Scan muscle scanning figures were "always high" and the key was the visual aspects.
"Most times the better visually selected rams have the most muscling. By using the better scanning rams, we have increased the overall figures which translates into more meat on the important cuts of lamb that processors chase," he said.
The stud has rams in a trial at Cudal, NSW, where the Hillden-sired lambs topped the dressed weight category and tested well for eating quality measurements.
In 2017 Hillden 730-16 was judged the grand champion at the Australasian Dorset championships as a woolly ram. The ram was then shorn before taking out the supreme exhibit at Melbourne Royal a week later.
Mr Frost said the one show they had attended before the lock down was the Canberra Royal where they took out the supreme exhibit with Hillden 110-19.
The supreme champion at Canberra this year, Hillden 110-19, was out of an ET program. The ram's dam, 224-17, was supreme exhibit at the NSW Dorset Championship and supreme short-wool exhibit at the Australian Sheep & Wool show in 2018. At weaning 110-19 was gaining 600 grams/day and at four months of age weighed 70kg.
While the show circuit was important for marketing and promotion for the stud's rams, more importantly it enables them to benchmark against other sheep, to confirm breeding direction and identify aspects that might need improving, he said.
While rams had been sold to every state, the majority of the flock rams were sold to prime lamb breeders within a close radius to Hillden and it was important that those rams perform for that area.
e said the location of the property, at about 1000 metres elevation, meant it was a short growing season so producers need to get lambs to marketable weights quickly.
The aim at Hillden was to breed 'easy doing sheep with high growth rates which enables Hillden sired lambs to meet all markets. Clients were using the rams over first-cross ewes but some were also joined to Merinos for a quick cash flow option - a trend that could increase with the current state of the wool market.
Mr Frost said the response from clients selling through the saleyards or over the hook was always positive, with Hillden-sired lambs often topping the market at local selling centres.
He said lambs from the Hillden commercial flock were sold over the hook and received good feedback.
Hillden rams had also been measured with high eye muscle area measurements and were at or near the top of the eye-muscle-area scans at the Australasian show over the past few years.
The stud ewes are single mated and lambed in three lambings - April, June and August - to give the ewes the best opportunity to conceive.
The stud conducts an artificial insemination and embryo transfer program using Hillden sires, including some older sires to keep those genetics in the flock and ram lambs as young as six months to get lambs on the ground as quickly as possible.
The ewes used in the program were also carefully selected, he said.