Learn­ing to class sheep

Tasmanian Country - - NEWS - KAROLIN MACGREGOR

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.

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