Learning to class sheep
SHEEP classing is a dying art but last week a workshop was held to help Tasmanian producers improve their skills.
About 32 producers attended the workshop, which was held at the Beaufront property near Ross.
The event was hosted by the Stud Merino Breeders Association of Tasmania.
Association committee member Nick Weeding who works on his family’s property Weedington at Oatlands said the aim of the workshop was to help breeders become more confident when it comes to classing sheep.
“We just wanted to give people in the industry and especially younger people an opportunity to get some advice and a few pointers on classing,” he said.
“We didn’t specifically say it was for young people, but we’re happy that quite a few have turned up. Hopefully after this they will be a bit more confident to go home and be able to class their own sheep.”
The workshop focused on visually assessing sheep and identifying good and bad traits and deciding which sheep potentially needed to be culled.
“It takes a fair bit of experience to get good at it,” Mr Weeding said.
“Not everyone has a stud and a classer to help them so that’s why we thought a workshop like this would be useful.”
In charge of the workshop was Stuart Hodgson from Australian Wool Innovation who runs similar workshops around the country.
He said while estimated breeding figures are important, it was vital farmers could also visually assess sheep and that’s where classing comes in.
“The industry has lost a lot of that hands-on knowledge through the downturn of the industry,” he said.
“There’s this huge focus on figures, which in some ways has been detrimental. Figures are important and they are definitely a useful tool, but we also need people to be able to do hands-on assessments.”
One of the most common mistakes Mr Hodgson sees is producers focusing too much on one trait.
“You’ve got to have a balance in your breeding program and that’s where using figures and classing comes in,” he said.
“It’s really important people can recognise the traits they’re after and that can help with ram selection too. It’s no point having a sheep with all the figures if it doesn’t produce much wool.”
Mr Hodgson said the changes in the merino breed towards larger-framed sheep cutting more wool and producing good-sized lambs had been very positive.
“I think the merino breed is probably as good now as it has ever been,” he said.
As well as covering the history of the breed, participants at the workshop also got some hands on experience classing sheep out in the yards.