CONCERNED with the emphasis on objective measurements among sheep breeders, Australian Wool Innovations sheep industry specialist Stuart Hodgson believes the success of stud Merino breeders’ forefathers needs to be remembered.
During the World Merino Insight conference in Adelaide, Mr Hodgson said the depletion of the jackaroo and jillaroo system had impacted some young breeders’ ability to assess livestock and, as a result, performance data was dominating the subjective assessment of sheep.
“I think there is too much weight thrown at the objective measurements side and not enough at the subjective measurement side – it is only a tool,” Mr Hodgson said.
“In some instances it has been overused to the detriment of the sheep, the two can co-exist and as they should.”
Through the years, he said there had been criticism directed at studmasters and breeders in the industry who didn’t use technology in their breeding.
“The industry should not disregard the people that went before us,” he said.
“A lot of the stud breeders who made such fantastic inroads in developing the animal we have today, did so without the modern scientific aides that we have all been told we have to have.
“We built a pastoral empire on those people’s foresight to breed sheep that cut wool and have lambs – I think as an industry we can’t lose sight of that.”
During the late 1990s to early 2000s, Mr Hodgson said the high downturn in Australia’s sheep and wool industry crippled the iconic stud industry to its knees and contributed to the near death of the jackaroo and jillaroo system.
“By and large, once the studs, with their reduced ram sales, learnt to run skinny, they were never going to run fat again,” he said.
“This has resulted in a situation where we have a distinct lack of young people lacking the basic skills of stockmanship required to fill those positions.
“To graduate through a territory institution does not necessarily equip you with the tools required.
“You may have a higher level of theoretical knowledge and expertise, but in the main, lack hands on skills.”
This is behind AWI’s recent investment in training program for young people, including the popular National Merino Challenges, which teaches sheep classing, and Hay Inc, focused on stockmanship, shearing, station bookkeeping and other practical skill-sets.
Mr Hodgson said the aim was to prevent a further drought of young skilled people coming through the ageing industry and revive the jackaroo system.
“The path that was available to me is no longer an option in regard to training facilities,” he said.