Producing the ‘perfect’ sheep

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Mark Murphy, Dr Jim Watts and a University of Queensland student classing the ewes for joining

Sheep breeder mark and Vicki Murphy want to produce the “perfect sheep” and they’re not far off it.

The Karbullah Poll Merino Stud, located north of Goondiwindi is ensuring the future of the merino industry in the region.

The family business, run by Mark and Vicki Murphy and their son Luke has forgone the traditional merino, to focus on a sheep more adaptable to Queensland’s harsh environment and much easier to handle and more productive than the traditional merino.

The Karbullah stud was officially registered in 2004, but the Murphy family began breeding rams well before that, at Mungindi in 1995.

In 2008, Mark and Vicki took on Mark’s parent’s stud, Boyanga Merinos, which they now run alongside Karbullah.

Since the Murphy’s began breeding merinos in the mid 1990’s they have focused on an easy-to-handle meat merino, compared to traditional wool merinos, which they believe is a much higher maintenance animal.

Mark said Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBV’s), run by Sheep Genetics, are the future of the merino industry.

“ASBVs allow you to measure fat, muscle, growth and many other areas of a sheep’s genetics,” Mr Murphy said.

“We started using ASBVs, which are equivalent to EBVs in cattle, in 2002.

“Since then we have seen immense improvements in lambing and weaning rates and the number of lambs born.

“More lambs and higher weaning rates lead to more money for commercial breeders.

“When you can’t measure you can’t improve.”

Mr Murphy said ASBVs have the potential to improve the entire merino industry, should traditional breeders get on-board.

“Merinos are hard to run, labour intensive and high maintenance and we want to simplify that,” Mr Murphy said.

“We have taken the ‘hard to manage’ out of merinos.

“Our merinos are easy care, we’ve eliminated body strike, mulesing and the drenching of adult sheep and our lambing rates and quality of wool has improved.

“We have reduced our running costs and increased our output.”

Australian Wool Network Sheep and Wool Specialist Stephen Maunder said ASBVs are definitely the future of the merino industry, as long as the entire merino fraternity support it.

“ASBVs make it possible to read genetics, so you can improve your flock for the next generation,” Mr Maunder said.

“You can use them as a benchmark to rank individual sheep in a genetic pool.

“At the moment they are only a guide being used by the minority of breeders, but they have the potential to become an important tool in the selection of superior sheep.”

Along with ASBV’s, Mr Maunder thinks dual-purpose merinos are the future of the industry.

“With the way the wool market is, they add value to the producer’s income, with both lamb survivability and carcass value at the abattoir.

“Dual-purpose merinos can compete with Dohnes, South African Meat Merinos (SAMMs) and other meat breeds, and have the added benefit of excellent wool traits as well.”

In the minds of Vicki and many other merino breeders there is cause for concern over the lack of advancement in the merino industry.

“The merino industry is not embracing advancements in technology,” Vicki said.

“Traditional breeders aren’t embracing ASBVs, and the entire industry is being left behind.

“We are trying to get the message across through making money for our clients, but it’s a slow ripple, we need to quicken the process up.

“Many people turned to cattle because sheep became too hard to manage; we need to get as competitive as cattle before we get left behind.”

The Murphy’s have been avid stud merino breeders for 20 years and have no intention of turning away now.

They want to be there to see the turnaround in the merino industry, to see a result for all their hard work.

“We are aiming at producing the perfect sheep, a dual-purpose merino that can cater for both the meat and wool industries,” Mrs Murphy said.

“When we get it right, and we’re not far off it, there will be no need for meat sheep breeds; the merino will be able to provide everything.”