Careful attention to genetics combined with astute land management and use of technology has led to significant increases in productivity on Muller Station in Marlborough.
In 1980 when Steve Satterthwaite took over the 38,860 hectare property in the Awatere Valley the ewe wool averaged 23.9 micron and 5 kg per head. The lambing percentage was 85-95%. Wool was the main sheep income and it was all sold at auction.
Today there are 20% more ewes and they are pregnancy scanning up to 150%, depending on seasonal conditions. Their wool now averages 20.5 micron and 6.3kg per head. To provide stability of income, 70% of the wool is sold on contract to outdoor and leisurewear clothing companies including Icebreaker, DTI and SmartWool. On average, sheep sales account for a third of the total sheep income and that percentage is likely to increase in the medium term.
Since 1980, rams from Glenlee Merino Stud have provided a good medium type merino that suits the property and the Satterthwaites’ aspirations for wool, meat and fertility. The Satterthwaites are firmly committed to the Icebreaker relationship so to further help them target their micron wool, they have bought two 20 micron rams from an Australian stud that emphasises very good confirmation and carcass traits, as well as exceptional wool quality.
The Satterthwaites believe genetics are fundamental to their success, so they continually fine tune their sheep and wool type to suit the environment and these market opportunities. The ewes have always been classed for mating, but for the last five years an Australian sheep classer, Stuart Hodgson, has brought some objectivity and impartiality to the selection process. He has been particularly focusing on the top end so it was easy to sort out 100 ewes each for the two new rams. Selection criteria for these ewes was strongly based on:
- Size, body conformation and leg structure
- Well marked, free-growing, dense wool
- Ideal nourishment for this environment, with good handle.
Interestingly, quantity rather than micron was a selection factor. However the average micron of the selected ewes is nearly one micron finer than the flock average at 19.6.
The resulting progeny will be assessed for their suitability and predictability. In time if they are up to standard the best of the rams will be used over the general ewes. However great care will be taken to try and maintain the inherent qualities of constitution and vigour that has stood the New Zealand merino in such good stead in this environment for the last 160 years.