Merinos of the future set sail to Bruny Island

Updated: Nov 11, 2020

Anderson Merinos produces a sort of triple threat flock. Between carcase productivity, soft white wool (the average micron of the Andersons' ewe flock is 18.8) and fertility (lambing percentage is over110%) their rams sell far and wide. In fact, a sire just landed on Bruny Island.

Lynley Anderson

Lynley Anderson has been challenging industry norms for years. It’s in her blood.

For generations, the Anderson family has been selectively breeding rams for remarkable robustness as much as productivity. They’re driven to produce sheep suitable for the polarising conditions of Australian farming, from the long dry through to dumping rains.

As a result, buyers make an annual pilgrimage to the property north west of Kojonup, Western Australia (where Lynley’s grandfather Athol settled in 1935) to secure these highly sought-after sheep.

“I enjoy ram breeding as much as my father Alan does, and my grandfather Athol did, although the selection process is now a lot more complicated than when he began using fleece measurements and body weights in his ram breeding back in the 1960s," third-generation sheep producer and principal of Anderson Rams, Lynley, said.

This rigorous visual selection and data collection has been happening for over 60 years. And when she says rigorous, she means it.

Theirs is a time consuming process of collecting and managing data balancing carcass traits as well as wool cut on each individual animal that starts with tagging lambs in the paddock at lambing time to accurately record pedigree, birth date, birth weight and ewe mothering ability, then continues with more than 60 traits recorded up to hogget age, including numerous visual traits. Using genetic Breeding Values for the past 17 years has added another layer of complexity but delivers benefits, particularly for traits that are not highly heritable.

One of the traits for which they are most famous has made them particularly popular with woolgrowers in regions where worm infestations are rife. After nearly 20 years of selecting for worm resistance, the Andersons have developed Australia’s most worm resistant merinos. Meaning that despite the worm challenges the Anderson’s flock doesn’t require drenching at all.

"For farmers to stay with merinos they need to be easy-care and this means plain-bodied with resistance to worms, fleece faults, dags and flies,” the passionate producer says.

After years of selling their highly sought-after sires exclusively via private negotiations, the 2014 decision to hold an annual sale on the property has proved worthwhile. That first year, 60 rams were offered and all except three sold. A top price of $2500 was achieved. That year, the likes of buyers such as western Victoria producer Tim Rokebrand and eastern Victoria producer Rory Blandford headed back east with rams after previously buying via email from photos.

At the 2018 family’s ram sale, the Anderson’s saw a top price of $12,200 and a total clearance. Just prior, they had a private sale of a ram for $20,000 to the Kerin Poll Merino stud at Yeoval in New South Wales.

At this year's sale, the typically enthusiastic Victorian buyers were missing, owing to covid travel restrictions and the state’s lockdown. Through online bidding alone, 47 sires were secured for an average price of $2886. Onsite, a Bremer Bay wool grower, Peter Smith, paid $10,400 for an incredibly highly worm resistant ram who is also a trait leader for wrinkle, dag, adult fleece weight and the MP+ index. Overall, the Andersons offered 150 rams and sold 147 at an average price of $2437.

Several Anderson sires have just arrived in Tasmania: on Bruny Island, Campbelltown and Bridgewater, a 4,000 kilometre journey across the iconic Nullabor Plains and the bruising Bass Strait.