Super Sheep Excursion

A fascinating trip to Australia's Riverina district to visit some of the best Merino sheep in the world

It’s all about Wool!

Many years ago I decided I wanted to learn as much about the wool industry as possible. Not just because I loved sheep, but also because I consider natural fibres to be so important and sustainable.

The more I learned, the more I realised how little I knew. I was fortunate that our local Tertiary College offered the full approved training with the outcome of becoming a “Wool Classer”—and so I began.

The Wool Classer is an important member of a shearing team as without one, especially in the Merino industry, a huge portion of the value of a property’s wool clip could be lost. Therefore, the skills of a good classer are vital to the farmer.

As the wool is shorn from a sheep, it is picked up by a handler and thrown high in the air (an art in itself) to land on a slatted table in a wide-spread but connected blanket, ready for classing (or inspecting). The classer deftly removes the pieces of the fleece that have any staining, burr or vegetable matter in them, together with any wool that is a different length to the rest of the fleece. The various pieces of the fleece are kept separate in wool bins (partitioned areas against a wall). As the bins fill, the wool is gathered by the Presser and, using a special box like machine, is pressed into a large bale, labelled clearly and when shearing is over, sent for sale.

To demonstrate the variety of Merino wool grown within Australia, a group of ten of us (including our two wonderful teachers) travelled from southern Queensland to the Riverina area of New South Wales (NSW) where we spent several days inspecting numerous studs and their stock. The distance we covered was considerable, however, in the small bus, there was no shortage of fun, talk and song. One of the other women was a young Maori girl from New Zealand who brought a guitar with her, so each evening as we sat around the table or fire, anyone who could play, took turns while those who could, sang, and those who couldn’t, enjoyed the concert!

On our first day we travelled almost 750kms to visit one of Australia’s most famous Merino Studs near Warren in north western NSW called Haddon Rig. From there, we headed down to West Wyalong and at night, camped in the shearer’s quarters on each property we visited, marvelled at the massive woolsheds on the route, and fell in love with the many beautiful old homesteads. A further two to three thousand kilometres were covered as we made our way to our base at “The Yanco” just north of Narrandera. From there we circumnavigated the district and visited many studs from Jerilderie to Deniliquin, Hay and back again. On these days, we visited many famous Merino studs including Uardry, Wanganella, Willurah, Boonoke and Pooginook—all displaying the best of their rams and ewes, wool and many stunning homes and gardens.

To a sheep and garden lover, it was a fabulous trip, an educational overload, and a thoroughly enjoyable week!

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