The best of merinos scrutinised by judges
Once reserved for the back country, the modern merino in its many different forms will come under the close inspection of fine wool farmers in a Canterbury competition later this month.
The Canterbury Merino Association's (CMA) biennial two-tooth ewe flock competition will begin in North Canterbury's Amuri basin on March 27 and take in a range of commercial high country flocks and a flock being run intensively under centre pivot irrigation.
This will be followed by the second day of competition with six flocks to be visited in the Rakaia and Ashburton gorges and ending in Methven with a prizegiving dinner.
Defending the title will be Robin and Phillipa Jamison from Hurunui Plains who impressed observers and judges alike with their two-tooth's high lambing percentage, footrot resistance and wool weight.
Their merinos will be among 13 flocks scrutinised by Tasmanian judge Andrew Calvert and Tim Wadsworth of Marlborough with farmers running their own impartial eye over the two days.
CMA chairman Beau McRae said constructive criticism from the sideline was encouraged and judge's comments "gratefully accepted" as the competition was as much as a vehicle to share ideas as a contest.
He said there had been a big improvement in the standard of breeding since the competition began.
"We have seen the improvement in the flocks and you compare your flock with someone else's and different types of breeding because they are on different properties.
"We go from the irrigated flock that won last time and we go to the high country - hard and low rainfall country - and we see this variety when we go to the different flocks."
The competition is a busman's holiday for merino farmers who travel from one property to the next and listen to judges' comments and farmer talks about their management and breeding practices.
McRae said good farmer numbers followed the competition because they could see the flocks in their own environment and visit stations they had not seen before.
"We are going to David Gunn's place at Lake Taylor (Station) which is the first time we have been up there," McRae said.
"It's a pretty tough environment and it will be interesting to see what he has up there and I believe he has some good sheep."
McRae said merino farming was in good shape with strong demand for 19 to 20 micron wool for the outdoor casual wear market, firm three year fine wool contracts through the NZ Merino Company, huge demand from China for mutton and promising merino lamb marketing.
"I think we are seeing the highest prices for mutton. I was told that a while ago and will see soon when I sell some wethers. An old wether worth $75 makes it worthwhile to run a wether flock again. Years ago fellas got rid of them and were selling merino lambs to the (finishers).
''The merino company has done a wonderful job with their Silere lamb, but we also have this option to run a wether flock now on a lot of country which is too tough for ewes and breeding and especially when you have the cost of fertiliser. The wethers also do a great job on the weeds."
He said good breeding to improve footrot resistance had given commercial farmers more options for their merinos.