A VICTORIAN fine wool, August-shorn Poll Merino ram named after tennis legend Rafael Nadal has won the Rabobank supreme Merino ram of the year at the National Merino Sheep Show and Sale.
Conducted at Dubbo, New South Wales, 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, 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, 1.9 SD, 11.7 CV and 100 per cen 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,” she said.
In 2012, the Crawfords purchased a ram from Pemcaw stud at the 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,” he said.
“I estimate he will cut a 17-micron fleece.”
On behalf of the five judges, medium/strong wool judge Clinton Blight, Seymour Park Poll Merino stud, Highbury, said there were 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 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,” he 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 horned and Poll rams, Mr Crawford said it was on his ‘bucket list’ to win with both.
“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 past 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.
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.
In a first for the national competition, a supreme Australian Merino ewe was contested at Dubbo with three ewes taking centre stage from NSW, South Australia 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 said 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 has 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, reinforced they were heading in the right direction with their flock.
“Competing at the bigger shows – we are competing against the very best,” he said.
“It is a 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 would become part of Wurrook’s top grade breeding ewes.