Production & Profitability with Ridgway Advance Sires

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Farr-reaching strategy 

Having a son who works off-farm for several months of the year as a shearer means David and Dianne Farr, Claru, Wunkar, understand the importance of breeding plain-body Merinos covered in free-growing, high-quality wool.

They decided to change the style of the Merinos they bred in 1999 with help from sheepclasser Bill Walker, Classings Limited, to improve wool quality. "We used to have sheep with very harsh, dense wool, and a lot of skin," David said.

The Farr's made more changes in 2003, by travelling to Bordertown and buying Ridgway Advance Rams (and have continued to buy each year at the Stud's Annual On-Property Auction) and having stud principle, David Ridgway come and class their flock. 

When Brent started shearing, in 2007 they realised the benefits of having a plainer type of sheep with free-growing wool and a longer staple length.

David says that besides it being easier for shearers to shear this type of sheep, breeding plainer Merinos with less wrinkle brings fewer flystrike problems.
"Lots of people only want to produce kilograms of wool a head, but I like to concentrate on what the sheep are producing in terms of dollars a head," he said.
The wool fibre length is longer, with a lower micron and a softer handling wool.

The quality of the Farr sheep is obviously well recognised - last year they sold the top-price Merino ewe hoggets at $272 at Lameroo off-shears sale.

"They were probably the best hoggets we have ever bred," David said.
Despite having a fairly tough start to life - with a locust plague in 2010 and mice being a "big problem" in 2011 - the hogget ewes set a South Australian saleyard record price at the time.

"Presentation matters a lot in the saleyard and our shearers make a good job of them," David said.
"If they look right it shows that you've got a bit of pride in your sheep."

The tops of the ewes’ brothers were sold over-hooks as lambs in mid October, 2010 at an average weight of 23.9 kilograms carcase weight for $121, including skin value of $8.20.
Thirds were sold over-hooks in March, 2011, averaging 26.6 kgcw for an average of $172, including skin value of $15.
“Seventeen of these thirds sold for $199 to $206” David said. “So we did crack $200 for Merino wehers with lambs teeth.

The Farrs self replacing Merino flock of 900 ewes is also supplemented by an additional flock of 300 Merino ewes that are mated to White Suffolk rams to produce prime lambs.
Unusually, ewes are run in mixed age mobs, with wool and body type determining which mob they are run in.

All ewe lambs are tagged with a numbered NLIS tag PIC number.
“Having this numbered tag means we can easily identify their mob of origin and sires bred from and also helps us keep an eye on which ewes are going into the top mobs” David said.
“It can be quite interesting at times comparing this information”
Ewes are separated into six different mobs and each mob is identified with a different coloured mob tag.

The first two are his top mobs with the first mob having plain bodies and top quality wool and the second having ‘not as plain’ bodies but with top quality wool.
The next two mobs are ewes that have what David terms ‘flock wool’, one mob with big plain body types the other mob being smaller, with more neck.
“Towards the end the mobs get down to what I call the roughies” David said. ‘I plain to eventually phase them out. These are bred to White Suffolks to produce cross-bred lambs”.

Rams are specifically matched to complement the different mobs of ewes. The first two mobs of ‘better wool type’ ewes are run with his best rams. “With each mob, different rams are selected to achieve the best results” he said.
He also produces his own ram lambs from these two top mobs, keeping about 50 ram lambs at lamb marking. This number is greatly reduced over the next eight months, eventually only keeping five ram lambs that show potential and these maybe used in the lower mobs.
Any ram lambs with bare breech traits create a lot of interest.
“It costs up to $2000 to buy a flock ram so it is a saving if I can breed some of my own flock rams and instead spend more money to buy top-end rams” he said “I’ve got nothing to lose. If ram lambs are not good enough then they are culled and sold with the wether lambs if they haven’t been used over ewes”
Last year Farr’s paid $7000 for a Ridgway Advance ram.

With the flock run on Ridgway Advance bloodlines, Ridgway Advance Stud principal David Ridgway classes the hoggets on wool type and body.
Hoggets are classed into three lines in August before shearing in September.
The undesirable types are culled and sold at Lameroo.

The remaining hoggets are then run through the yards several times in the months afterwards with David and Brent further classing hoggets on body type.
“By setting a high standard of the 350 hoggets only 40 were suitable to go in the top mobs” David said.
“All hoggets in the top two mobs are side-sampled. This year we did mob three and four to sort out any extreme types”.

Ewe hoggets had teated as low as 15.9 microns, but generally average 18 micron for those top two mobs, with mobs three and four averaging 19 micron.
The ewe flock average is 20 – 21 micron.

David says the ewe hoggets were shorn three times by the time they were sold, once in September as lambs, in March as young ewes then in September before being sold in October.
“We got 50 millimetres to 70 mm of wool off them in each of these six-month periods between shearing” he said.

“in the March to September period we each had one ewe grow 72 mm of wool and most averaged 61 mm.  Ewes cut an average of 6.5kg of skirted fleece a head. “This is a whole flock average, which included some seven year old ewes we have in the mob as well.” David said.

David says his cousin Glen Farr has played an important part in helping improve the quality of David’s sheep. “He runs his enterprise in a similar way.’
“He has also done really well at the Lameroo off-shears. Brfore last year our Ridgway Advance blood ewe hoggets had sold for the same price”