A Guide to Ram Selection & Ewe Classing
The SA Merino has evolved over the years to be a highly profitable dual purpose Merino. Through careful selective use of the right genetics SA stud breeders offer their commercial clients the best of both worlds – animals with a highly valuable carcass and a highly valuable fleece.
The modern SA Merino is a big well conformed plain bodied animal, quick maturing and not complicated. Covered with long stapled wool of the highest quality and wool cutting ability. The selection of sires/rams to be used in your flock will have a huge bearing on the profitability on your Merino flock.
“Merino SA” suggests the following criteria as a basic guide to both commercial Merino breeders and stud breeders, as a guide to assist them in their ram replacement selection and the classing of their ewe flock.
Growers should set long term goals for their Merino flock and purchase from a stud who they believe would suit their commercial objectives.
Much of the following also applies to ewe classing.
- Select rams that are suitable for and if need be can adapt to your environment, not complicated, plain bodied, and sheep that will breed quick maturing animals with a meaty carcass and in the micron range that you are aiming for.
- Select animals that can rectify any current problems or faults that your sheep may have.
CONFORMATION & BODY STRUCTURE
- Stand back and assess overall make and shape of the animal first.
- Look for size and constitution (ability to do well). Strong head and muzzle, good spring of rib, wide leg spacing etc.
- Be aware of faults eg top line (dippy back),poor shoulders, bad feet, bad mouths, skin pigmentation etc
- Check testicles to be firm, oval shape with no lumps.
- Avoid animals with excessive skin development and thickness.
- Aim for a long stapled free growing white bright fleece with good nourishment to handle all the dust and rain, with the ability to cut a highly profitable fleece on a plain body.
- Staple length to carry down to the leg and belly.
- Soft pliable skin to grow long stapled free growing fibres.
- Large framed animal with plenty of area to shear for maximum wool cut.
- The use of eyes and hands play an essential part in assessing quality.
- Soft handling heavy cutting fleeces must be long stapled.
- Wool style - A well defined crimp gives the staple elasticity and indicates even fibre diameter and even wool growth rate. This provides an even top to the fleece and usually microns lower than visual crimp suggests.
- Evenness of visual quality of fleece from shoulder to back end of sheep, avoid rough breech area wool which indicates a scattering of higher micron fibres through the fleece.
- Nourishment on the surface and in the staple will protect the fibre. White bright wool with a high wax ratio is desirable. (too much suint is usually indicated by creaminess and can lead to problems with rain and body strike).
Remember the average sheep is shorn by the producer six times and sold once !!!
- The amount of measurement used by studs includes involvement by some with SGA Sheep Genetics Australia including use of ABV’s (Australian Breeding Values). The majority of SA studs use fleece, body weight, and objective measurements to assist in their breeding programmes. All is subject to the individual choice and time and labour available.
- Measurement is to be used as an aid to selection not a means.
REMEMBER – THE RELEVANCE OF FIGURES GIVEN IN MEASUREMENT DEPENDS ON SEASONAL CONDITIONS, THE AGE OF THE ANIMAL AND THE AVERAGE OF THE GROUP.
For maximum profitability of your Merino flock it is imperative to practice good sheep husbandry with your rams all year round.
- Keep feet trimmed
- Keep horns trimmed
- Jet and drench as required
- Shear twice yearly
- Feed extra rations 6 – 8 weeks prior to mating ( eg lupins)
EWE FLOCK CLASSING
Most points covered in ram selection area also applies to ewe qualities. For maximum profitability it is extremely important to maintain a high standard ewe flock to breed from.
Your stud master or a recognized sheep classer would be ideal to class your hoggetts. This should be done annually.
- A ewe should be a dual purpose animal with a good carcass mothering ability and still produce a valuable fleece.
- The percentage culled varies from flock to flock, an average of 20 – 30% of ewe hoggetts culled annually will significantly upgrade your flock.
- Quickest genetic gain is realized when high lambing percentages allow for a heavy culling rate.
Take pride in your sheep, feed and manage them well, class them regularly and you will be rewarded.