With a change of bloodlines this Western District flock hit the ground running

Howard McCorkell, his family and manager Jamie Burns run more than 7000 Merino and Composite sheep on the McCorkell’s property in 650mm rainfall country west of Hamilton.

After taking over his family’s property and flock more than seven years ago, and on the advice of his sheep consultant Craig Wilson, Mr McCorkell injected Woodpark Poll genetics in a bid to lift wool cut and body size while maintaining the existing wool quality on his flock. The Weekly Times spoke with Mr McCorkell about his results, in June this year.

“Diversification for Western District farmer Howard McCorkell comes in the form of running two different breeds of sheep.”

Despite his country being in the heartland of composites more than half the 7000 ewes he joins are Merinos.

“…(He) said it was the numbers that stacked up when it came to maintaining the Merinos as many others in the district were opting to go down the opposite path.”

“We wanted sheep with a good body and good wools. It was an interesting decision given that we were taking sheep from the Riverina to the Western District but the young rams have handled it well.”

Howard initially bought about 20 flock rams which still had ASBVs but allowed him to build up ram numbers of similar type without going to auction. Since then, he has started operating at the stud’s annual auction.

“We wanted more depth and body in our sheep which would give us better (more profitable) options when it came to selling them,” Mr McCorkell told The Weekly Times.

“Several joinings down the track the influence of the new bloodline has done exactly what they’d hoped and something they didn’t expect.

“Wool cuts have risen by 20 to 30 percent.

“This has had a huge impact on the Merino enterprise in the livestock operation as there was simply more wool to sell.

But micron has remained steady.

“Even with the boom in lamb prices, the comparable marked increase in wool prices combined with the now higher wool cut in his sheep see Merinos outclassing the composites for the past couple of years when the enterprises are benchmarked.”

“We had thought that we would lose the fineness in the flock but we haven’t changed much, if at all.

“We were in the 16-18 micron range and we have stayed there.”

“The impact on body size has made their sheep more attractive to sell as mutton, with stock now consigned direct to the abattoirs and sold on a grid basis.

The McCorkells measure their Merinos through use of ASBVS for selection, internal benchmarking by consultants and measures such as entering wether trials.

“I was lucky to have bought a good flock of sheep that my parents had worked hard on and have been able to use these as a base to make an even more productive flock.”

– Fiona Myers, The Weekly Times June 5, 2019

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