By Robert Mortimer
1974 The Pre ~ Centre Plus Story
As a commercial merino breeder when our Stud ram source closed I approached our local Dept. of Agriculture Sheepo as to a choice of replacement Stud to select rams from. We ended up being convinced to use rams from Plevna Merion Stud, and selecting rams out of two different groups. After doing this and allowing the Sheepo (Frank Donnelly) to come and draft our ewes in half and mate them to the two groups of rams. The two progeny groups were identified separately and as hogget’s measured and compared. One group outperformed the other, regardless of the fact the original rams looked like peas in a pod. Frank had evolved the two families at Plevna by taking half the stud and selecting it on performance while the other half continued selection traditionally. This result created a light bulb moment for me as to the potential for performance breeding. With this enlightened knowledge I decided I could find the Stud that would give us the most profitable merino’s to run. With Frank’s help we progressed to progeny testing rams from a stud that had been winning at a lot of local shows. This trial ended in a disappointing result for us.
It was at this point it dawned on me that it might take a lifetime to progeny test my way to the most profitable Stud. The faster pathway became clear when I read in a paper about this group of farmers in WA Known as the AMS (Australian Merino society) who were measuring their commercial ewes and contributing their top few ewes to regional ram breeding groups who in turn contributed their top few ewes to a top tier, from where rams were available to the regional groups .
In trying to source some rams to progeny test I was told they were not available ~ but if we were to create a ram breeding group we could have top rams or elite AI sires straight away. On lamenting this finding to a local mate, his immediate reply was, "lets go through the motions of starting a breeding group so we can do a progeny test of the top animals and if we don’t like the progeny we can just close again." (JB)
This in some areas may have been a hard thing to do but the Tullamore area is an ordinary small mixed farming area, with no merino studs. At the time a lot of young farmers had just left school and there was a thriving local Rural Youth Club, where all were forced to participate in Junior Sheep Judging at Shows and doing Sheep & Wool Courses. It was from this base that 15 young farmers agreed to participate in the exercise.
The first mating was in 1981 with ewes from three flocks. By 1982 ewes were contributed from 15 flocks, involving 10 different bloodlines. This involved a base of approx. 20,000 ewes.
SID AI (Shot in the dark artificial insemination) from Elite AMS Sires were used in the new Nucleus and 5 commercial Flocks.
The progeny hit the ground and grew like mushrooms and the members loved them.
Because of my growing fascination with sheep breeding I was coerced into running the breeding program. (Robert Mortimer)