A Victorian fine wool August shorn Poll Merino ram named after tennis legend Rafel Nadal has won the Rabobank supreme Merino ram of the year at the National Merino Sheep Show and Sale.
Conducted at Dubbo, NSW, the nation’s best Merino sheep were centre stage, judged state against state, and it’s a big deal considering wool is now a $4 billion trade for Australia.
The supreme ram ‘Rafer’ was bred by John Crawford and daughter Nicole of Rock-Bank stud, Victoria Valley, Victoria.
An AI bred ram by Yarrawonga 961 and out of a Rock-Bank elite stud ewe, the four-tooth ram had fleece measurements of 18-micron fibre diameter, 1.9 standard deviation (SD), 11.7 per cent coefficient of variation (CV) and 100pc comfort factor (CF).
Ms Crawford, who works side-by-side with her father at Rock-Bank stud said she had been waiting for the right ram to come along to call Rafer.
“I have taken a real interest in the poll side of the stud, with the help of dad, and he allows me to name most of the show sheep,” Ms Crawford said.
In 2012 the Crawfords’ purchased a ram from Pemcaw stud at Dubbo national sale. That ram was used over a group of specially selected Rock-Bank ewes and soon after that the poll stud was registered.
“Yarrawonga 961 clicked beautifully with the Rock-Bank cross Pemcaw ewes,” Ms Crawford said.
Mr Crawford said the deep barrelled Rafer, who is being shorn this week, had an unbelievably soft wool with a tremendous lock.
“He has very loose, supple skin. I estimate he will cut a 17-micron fleece,” Mr Crawford said.
On behalf of the five judges, medium/strong wool judge Clinton Blight of Seymour Parl Poll Merino stud, Western Australia, said there was four magnificent rams on stage that were all true to type and outstanding representatives of the breed.
“The Victorian ram had magnificent wool, which he carried right down underneath,” Mr Blight said.
“He had a beautiful pure head, good deep jaw for that wool type. He stood up extremely well and overall is an outstanding sheep.”
Mr Crawford said he felt extremely proud to win the supreme ram of the year award.
“It is a tremendous award, it is an accolade most people in the industry strive for because it is aiming for excellence within the breed and your breed type,” Mr Crawford said.
“It’s not all about winning, it is about taking the breed forward – increasing carcase weight, increasing wool cut and quality.
“I’ve set my type and try to be an industry leader if I can be within our type of sheep.”
Believed to be the only stud to ever win the supreme title with both horned and poll rams, Mr Crawford said it was on his ‘bucket list’ to win with both horned and polled rams.
“The win came a bit earlier than expected,” he said.
“But I believe he (Rafer) is one of the best two sheep I have ever bred. The polls have become a very competitive sheep, a weapon in the industry.
“But it took those tough times to reset and refocus because we were doing it so hard.
“In the last 10 years we have put an enormous emphasis on increasing size, production and capacity for more meat.
“I want to be able to be a part of the innovation to take the Merino industry to another level.”
Showing their consistency, Rock-Bank have previously won two national supreme titles with horned rams in 1997 and 2006 and represented Victoria in the competition eight times.
Over the years they have also won four national pair titles and three national fleece titles.
The immediate plan for Rafer is to become a leading Rock-Bank sire, although he already has some impressive progeny on the ground which dropped late July.
NSW was represented by Drew Chapman of Hinesville stud, with his medium wool ram ‘Two-Up’ who was sashed supreme exhibit of the show only hours before.
The big upstanding ram carried a 150 millimetre staple fleece with a 18.4-micron fibre diameter, 2.8 SD,15.2pc CV and a CF 99.8pc.
Two-Up had previously been named the grand champion medium wool ram at the Australian Sheep and Wool Show in Bendigo in July.
Jim Sullivan of Greenfields stud, Willalo, exhibited the South Australian entry with his champion ram Greenfields 61.
By Hinesville Faro, the biggest ram on the stage carried a 21-micron strong wool fleece.
Mr Sullivan, who has competed in the national competition seven times, said his ram had “great scale with a tremendous outlook”.
“He also carried a very rich, sirey, well nourished wool,” Mr Sullivan said.
Queensland was represented by a medium wool Poll Merino ram ‘Harry’, named after prince Harry, bred and exhibited by the Brumpton family of Jolly Jumbuck Poll Merino stud, Baynham.
The ram, by Willandra Desmond, was previously named Queensland junior ram of the year before he was announced the state’s ram of the year.
Three ewes contest supreme
In a first for the national competition, a supreme Australian Merino ewe was contested at Dubbo with three ewes taking centre stage from NSW, SA and Victoria.
It was a double for Victoria who exhibited the supreme ewe, bred by Paul Walton of Wurrook stud, Rokewood, with a six-tooth superfine August shorn ewe.
By a Wurrook Grand Monarch family ram, and bred naturally out of an elite Wurrook stud ewe, she had fleece measurements of 17.2-micron fibre diameter, 2.6 SD and 99.9 CF.
Before becoming the first supreme ewe of Australia, she was grand champion superfine ewe at the Bendigo and grand champion overall ewe at Ballarat Show, both in July.
Mr Walton explained his supreme ewe as “unique” and praised her femininity.
“She is physically so correct and her wool is top quality and she is very feminine,” Mr Walton said.
“When you scan and take a look at what is producing, femininity runs hand in hand with fertility.”
This is not the first time Wurrook have represented Victoria for a supreme title, competing twice before and winning the national supreme ram in 2016.
Mr Walton said winning this title plus the grand champion ewe at Bendigo in 2016 and 2017 reinforces that they are heading in the right direction with their flock.
“Competing at the bigger shows – we are competing against the very best,” Mr Walton said.
“It is a really good way to benchmark ourselves against the other studs. Sometimes you learn more at a show when you don’t win.”.
Mr Walton said the ewe will now become part of Wurrook’s top grade breeding ewes.
SA was represented again by the Sullivan family from Greenfields stud and NSW by Austral Eden stud, West Wyalong, both with March shorn ewes.