Merino Success Story – Tom Bibby (VIC)

Tatyoon, Victoria, woolgrower, Tom Bibby, has ditched the use of terminal meat sires over old ewes and culls in favour of 100 per cent Merino rams on his flock of 3800 breeders and progeny.

CASE STUDY: Victoria

SUBJECT: Tom Bibby


AREA: 520 hectares



Merinos – the sustainable choice for the future

Why Merinos? My top three reasons

  1. Love for Merinos and wool
  2. Dual purpose with Merino wether lambs reaching 24-25kg
  3. Merinos suit the operation and work in harmony with the cropping operation

A TWEAK in flock joining strategy is expected to have a two-fold effect of bumping up pressure at the classing race as well as opening new marketing opportunities for Tatyoon, Victoria, woolgrower Tom Bibby.

With a clip already described as “one that woolclassers fight for the chance to work on”, the recent shift from running a mixed Merino and crossbred flock, to a 100 per cent Merino flock will only add weight to that image.

Mr Bibby runs an operation that integrates a flock of 1800 Merino ewes plus progeny with an annual cropping program of 200 hectares on 520ha.

The change in joining philosophy meant that starting in 2021, instead of joining cull young ewes and cast-for-age ewes to terminal sires, all ewes in the flock were joined to Merino rams.

Mr Bibby said he was coming up for 50 years in the sheep business and up until recently running Merinos and some crossbreds.

He has “dabbled” with crossbreds over the years but a combination of some health issues and his age has driven the swing over to all Merinos.

“For my operation, Merinos are much less work than adding crossbreds,” he said.

“Merinos are just not as big as crossbreds and they’re easier to handle – and I just like the Merinos.

“I’ve had crossbreds, but my heart isn’t really in them.

“I’m a one-man-band and use contractors for shearing and crutching and up until this year I did the cropping mainly myself.”

He runs about 1800 Merino ewes plus the same number of lambs and achieves lambing rates that average 100 per cent.

With the shift to fully Merino genetics, an additional 200-300 Merino ewes, previously put to a terminal sire, were being joined to Merino rams.

The additional Merino ewe progeny increased selection pressure as well as providing additional ewes for sale with the option of selling as either future breeders or as cast-for-age ewes.

The flock is classed in December and ewe hoggets are culled at about 20 per cent each year.

With increased numbers being bred, that culling percentage would rise this year and next, Mr Bibby said.

Grown ewes normally cut six to 6.5kg a head of 18-19 micron fleece while the hoggets measured around 16 to 17 microns.

His aim is to breed ewes with longevity and which produce good quality wool throughout their lifetime.

“I find the good crimpy wool means those sheep retain their micron around that 18 to 19 range even as old sheep,” he said.

This year the wool measured a yield average of 75 per cent across the clip.

The two year olds microned at 18 micron and yielded 79 per cent – the highest ever.

Staple length of the clip is monitored to keep within specifications and the tensile strength measurement was usually in the mid to high 30s newtons per kilotex.

This season the clip was expected to return an average of around $90 to $100 per head.

Mr Bibby said he had been buying rams from a nearby stud for many years, generally buying at the top end of the catalogue.

With the switch in 2021, they were a bit short on ram numbers and in 2022 purchased extra rams to meet the higher ewe numbers.

At the stud’s 2022 ram sale, Mr Bibby bought seven rams to a sale top of $5500.

He selects poll rams for ease of handling, with big frames and “deep, crimpy” wool that will micron on the finer end.

“We just select the best rams in the sale and then we buy them,” he said.

“I’m sure it’s paid off over the years – you get a lot of lambs out of a ram if they are good.”

Mr Bibby is a believer in having his sheep in good condition.

“I like to have the ewes nearly fat – if they’re not you find out later that it affects your lambing percentages,” he said.

“I feed a fair bit of barley, which is purchased from a neighbour.

“I start training ewes and lambs on grain in late November, December before weaning the lambs in mid January.

“I normally don’t have to worry then about the ewes, and I concentrate on the lambs, feeding them through the drier months.”

Ewe and wether lambs are treated the same and split up after shearing.

Maiden ewes are joined in March to lamb as two-year-olds in spring.

Mr Bibby said that any earlier than the spring could be a problem with the increased chances of poor weather.

A drench capsule is used on lambs in May for worm control.

He said the wet season in 2022 had challenged sheep with some paddocks getting extremely wet.

“We keep a close eye on feet in the flock and make sure rams have good feet when we buy,” he said.

Mr Bibby said the area was “terrific” for cropping with 200ha of the better drained paddocks sown to canola and wheat annually.

Crops were normally sown with 80 to 100kg/ha of MAP and pasture paddocks are top dressed with 120kg/ha of single superphosphate.

The pastures were clover and ryegrass sown at 20-25kg a hectare following cropping.

Dual purpose a winner

Mr Bibby said the dual income from wool and lambs for meat was a good combination.

“Even with the recent falls in lamb prices, the heavy lambs are still making good money,” he said.

He said the wether lamb portion of the flock were shorn and then sold at around 24-26kg either on the hooks or in the yards.

The September-drop wether lambs were shorn in June and sold in October, before they cut their two teeth.

Last year a high percentage of the wether lambs averaged around 26kg and sold for an average of $210 with some going over the hooks and others through the saleyards.

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