Merino Success Story – James Hume (TAS)

James Hume, “Allanvale” Tasmania with 2 of his 3 children.

Merinos – the sustainable choice for the future

Why Merinos? My top three reasons

  1. A sustainable choice for the future
  2. More financial stability than other farming options
  3. Low footprint farming option

James Hume, together with his wife Helen and three children Freddy (5), Annabelle (2 and Stella (5 months) run 5500 Merino ewes on just over 5000 acres at ‘Allanvale’ in Tasmania’s Dewent Valley.

On a separate lease block they farm 1800 self-replacing composite ewes.

And although running a Merino flock came down through the generations and the breed that was most suitable to their environment, James knows the Merino is the sustainable choice for the future.

He said their enterprise now ticks a number of boxes including value adding, sustainability and low footprint.

“I grew up with Merinos, but our landscape lends itself to Merinos more so than other enterprises,” he said.

“Financially, although a wool flock doesn’t make you instantly “rich”, it seems like the troughs and the peaks being a wool grower are far less severe then maybe cropping and other agricultural enterprises.”

James said the Merino breed is what the world is demanding as far as sustainability goes, as well as satisfying a number of goals for the wool and sheepmeat enterprise.

“Merinos are a sustainable enterprise which fits into what the world is demanding in sustainable protein and fibre,” he said.

“We don’t have croppable country, it’s quite hilly, so the focus for us is sustainability and wanting to place our farm and environment in a better place than when we got it.”

At Allanvale the business turnover breakdown is 40pc wool and 60pc meat.

They join some Poll Merinos back to white suffolk rams on a separate property.

“Given the value in the sheepmeat sector at the moment, as a Merino grower it has been my opinion, why wouldn’t you try and cash in on both, that has boded quite well for us in the last two years,” James said.

“We do have an emphasis on the carcass and fertility in Merinos.

“But the more fertile and more meat traits you try to stick into a Merino, maybe you start to lose some of those really stylish superfine characteristics, so it is quite a juggling act.”

He said a true multi-purpose Merino can fit incredibly well into a cropping and sheep enterprise, run in the right country and environment.

For them however, he said they are still happy to be fine wool growers with a double edged sword being able to breed terminals successfully and have some carcass weights there as well.

“We may not be a traditional superfine wool grower in that I see the importance of having an animal that is dual purpose,” he said.

“But it has always been a sticking point for me to be able to grow a ‘good wool’.”

More recently, genetics were introduced with the intention to cease mulesing.

Six years ago they began trials on-farm with young ewes before they took the plunge and stopped mulesing their flock three years ago.

“I turned to the type of genetics which I knew had an SRS background and terrific skins,” James said.

“In saying that, the wool types aren’t what I love, but to get the right skins on our wools I think there needs to be a bit of give and take, so my idea is to meet somewhere in the middle.”

Their grown ewe flock average is around 18.5-micron dropping back to 16 to 17-micron for the weaners.

The Allanvale average wool cut is 5.5 kilograms across their grown ewes and 3.75kg for their one- year-old hoggets.

Shearing takes place once during a 12-month cycle.

“It is tricky in Tassie to achieve any shorter shearing periods to hit desired staple lengths, the climate doesn’t lend itself to shorter shearing cycles,” James said.

Responsible Wool Standards (RWS) have become an integral part of their operation.

“Dad was a passionate wool grower who was always looking to be part of sustainable contracts,” James said.

“When I came back to the farm we decided to make a few genetic changes.

“This led us into RWS, which we have been a part of for a few years now.

“There are still a lot of people that treat wool as a bulk commodity, like grain or canola, but I think the industry, with the quality schemes, is diverging into two different pathways.

“We are able to be part of a scheme and prove that we are doing the right thing by our environment, by our sheep, socially, and we are now getting rewarded for that too.”

Generally, the Humes achieve on average $2 a kilo over and above the market value.

James said there is a bit more work and accreditations, but the reward for effort is definitely apparent.

“For those that want to participate in these schemes and start to get to know the buyers or at least the companies that are buying the wool, I feel it is a positive move for the industry,” he said.

“My wife and I are passionate about listening to what the customer wants and being a part of these more intimate schemes.

“At the end of the day if we don’t listen to what our customers want, there won’t be a wool industry.”

He said one attribute of wool which sets it apart from the rest, is its compatibility with nature.

“Merinos have a low impact on the environment and the low water usage.

“We all acknowledge work needs to be done to continuously improve sustainability, but the thing about wool is that it is completely biodegradable – you can throw it in the veggie patch and six months later it is gone.

“From that point of view, when you consider the amount of landfill that is attributed directly to oil-based clothing, I think it is such an amazing fibre.

“We have such a good story to promote.”

This case study is part of the Breed More Merinos campaign, demonstrating the unrivalled performance of the Australian Merino.