Bremners raise wool quality bar

30 May, 2012 02:00 AM
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Jeff Bremner and his daughter Kate with some young ewes at their Beverley property. The Bremners have trialled several different Merino lines over the years and are now on Norwood bloodlines, resulting in longer staple lengths, whiter wool and a plainer-body type.
Jeff Bremner and his daughter Kate with some young ewes at their Beverley property. The Bremners have trialled several different Merino lines over the years and are now on Norwood bloodlines, resulting in longer staple lengths, whiter wool and a plainer-body type.

SINCE settling in Beverley in 1906, the Bremner family name has been synonymous with striving to produce the best quality wool possible off the back of a Merino.

Over the years the Bremners have trialled a few different Merino breeding lines on their path to getting the type of sheep and wool quality they are happy with.

While they have achieved this goal to a certain degree, Geoff and Jan and their daughter Kate are still dedicated to bettering their wool product.

Geoff is a fourth generation Bremner and, along with his wife Jan, enjoys the challenges involved in making the changes to their wool.

"We are really after that long stapled, free growing, very white wool," Geoff said.

In order to produce such a product Geoff and Jan have used two different Merino lines over the years but have since settled on obtaining their genetics from the Norwood Merino stud, Tasmania.

"When we were on the other Merino line, more than 10 years back, to get further along we needed to start from the bottom by culling heavily and slowly build up to where we wanted to be. This was an extremely laborious process," Geoff said.

"We achieved the frame and plain-bodied sheep but still wanted to improve the wool quality.

"We have been on the Norwood lines for five years now and have seen an improvement in our wool quality and the type of sheep we wanted very quickly.

"Our sheep now have whiter wool with a longer staple length and one of the biggest benefits has been that we haven't mulesed for five years.

"Having a more easy-care type of sheep has been our objective and the non-mulesing factor has really been a plus given fly problems are kept under control due to the plainer body style and the wool type."

The Norwood genetics have proved to contain the attributes which had the ability to make big and almost immediate changes to the Bremners' wool type.

From the first progeny they were able to see those improvements coming through.

The Bremners' breeding program consists of breeding their own replacement rams from a nucleus flock of about 200 of their top Merino ewes which they AI to Norwood rams approximately every two years.

Their breeding program sees about 1300 ewes mated with the majority of the Bremners' stock-based income derived from their annual wool clip and on-farm sale of wether lambs.

There is not a prime lamb in sight and the Bremners believe the combination of wool-producing sheep and a cropping enterprise is something which works well for them.

"We used to run 5000 ewes," they said.

"However in 2010 we sold a lot, more because the cropping side of things had to come up.

"Now that we have downsized to a more manageable and better balance of our sheep-cropping ratio, we have discovered that the reduction of scale has meant we can better manage and maintain our quality and not be so thinly spread in terms of the workload."

The home property comprises 2300 hectares and seeding time usually sees about 1200ha of crop go in with the breakdown about 900ha of wheat, 300ha of canola and a bit of barley.

At last harvest, Geoff said the wheat went approximately 3.5 tonnes to the hectare, which in anybody's terms was a great crop.

On the wool harvest side of things, the Bremners usually produce 75 bales during a February shearing with the wool marketed pretty much straight away.

"Our wool micron average sits between 18.5 and 19.5 micron," Geoff said.

"We used to be between 21 and 22 micron but the change in our breeding program has meant a finer micron and also a longer length in staple which is what we have been after.

"The weaners average about 17.8 micron now."

During a July lambing, the Bremners expect about 93 per cent lambing and Geoff and Jan have been pleased with the results of the maiden ewes which last season recorded a 100pc lambing.

"From our annual lambing we retain about 500 ewe lambs as replacement breeders," Geoff said.

"The type we retain fit the new breeding objectives in terms of wool and in general we tend to prefer a medium-framed ewe than a larger-framed one.

"We find it is more productive and feed efficient to run two medium-framed ewes rather than one big-framed one.

"When we first started our breeding changes we would class the weaners and perhaps find 20 out of a mob that we really thought were good and fitted our criteria.

"Then, the next year, there were 80 and then the next year 100 and so on.

"Now, we have got to the point where we really pick the eyes out of our weaners and we are able to cull pretty heavily in order to keep the highest possible quality."

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