• Loddon Herald

Biggest show beckons

THE profile of Loddon Valley merino studs has lifted enormously since the nation’s biggest sheep show moved to central Victoria more than 20 years ago.

It’s a recognition for the Loddon that is again front of mind for Terrick West stud owner Ross McGauchie as he prepares to again exhibit rams and ewes at the Australian Sheep and Wool Show this month.

Ross, a former president and long-time executive member of the Australian Sheep Breeders’ Association and Victorian Stud Merino Breeders’ Association, said the show’s relocation from Melbourne to Bendigo in 1999 had raised awareness of the role of the merino industry in the Loddon.

“There are several studs here in the Loddon that are competing with the best studs from across Australia and picking up their share of trophies,” Ross said.

“Across the Loddon Valley and through to the Wimmera are some terrific sheep. In my younger life, people looked to the Riverina and New South Wales ... that’s changed now.

“With the improvement of sheep in Victoria, we now have sheep as good as any.”

Ross says genetics have assisted with improvement to ram and ewe quality and characteristics.

“In some ways, we don’t get credit for those improvements in our industry,” he said.

“I’d love my Dad to have seen the sheep we are breeding now compared with 30 or 40 years ago. And the stud industry has become more commercial in that time too.”

Ross will be exhibiting eight rams and five ewes at the national show, now regarded as the largest sheep industry event in the Southern Hemisphere.

Between assisting with the show’s organisation, Ross has his prime sheep cover before their entry into highly-competitive sections.

“Showing is very important. It’s a great leveller and benchmark for your own sheep and then to see what other studs have,” he said. “We are all competing to achieve the same thing - to build better sheep.”

The Terrick West stud has often taken the eye of judges at the big shows, including Bendigo and Adelaide.

Twice, Ross has taken out the March-shorn national pairs trophy plus multiple ribbons for supreme champions.

His stud has won the Riverina Wool Australian champion hogget merino ram title at Hay three times. A fourth recently looked likely until the final minutes of judging when Terrick West was given second.

But for Ross, his most memorable show success is not a first or even a second.

“I started showing in the 1980s and got a third in a pretty decent section in Melbourne. I still remember that one ... it was our first ribbon,” he said.

And while studs aim to win, Ross says there can sometimes be more notoriety with a second or third. “There’s the judge in the ring and another 50 people looking on who also have an opinion.”

He says having sheep assessed in shows is a good comparison.

“When you are home the best sheep are yours ... you can lose perspective some times.” Ross’ focus remains on the future of the merino industry.

“Our surplus ewes being bigger and plainer bodied are much sort after as the mothers of prime lambs and therefore are an extremely valuable asset to our operation. Likewise, wether lambs are now a significant part of the prime lamb market.

“These dual purpose assets make the poll merino the most versatile and valuable of any of the sheep breeds.

“We’re cutting more wool, the micron’s finer and the sheep are bigger these days,” Ross said.

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