Accidentally buying the wrong sheep is a mistake in paying dividends for a producer in Hunter Valley.
The Australian White is a breed of Australian meat sheep originally developed for Australian conditions and rapidly gaining popularity.
However, this was never something a Gundy farm had in mind until they accidentally introduced the breed to their farm.
Nikki Collison is the manager of Gundy Whites and has made an unexpected entry into the market after seeking to diversify.
“Initially we just wanted six sheep and a ram for the killers and by accident we ended up with these,” she said.
“This has been marketed as the Wagyu of the Sheep World… everyone loves it because it has a low fat melting point.”
Value for money
To put the value of these animals into perspective, last year’s most expensive ram sold for $ 53,000.
This return is one of the reasons Gundy Whites plans to increase his flock to around 250 ewes, with future expansion.
Although the breed has rarely been seen around the Upper Hunter, it is now starting to become a more familiar sight in the enclosures.
Ms Collison has received phone calls from other people in the area looking to invest in the breed.
“There is interest in this, I probably get two phone calls a week from people chasing rams or sheep,” she said.
“People are just looking for that little extra income.”
Demand from cattle producers
Tyler Stewart operates Regal Australian White Sheep Stud in Inverell, on the North Highlands of New South Wales.
Since the rain started to fall early last year, Ms Stewart has been unable to keep up with demand, answering four or more phone calls per week.
“We’ve just seen a huge increase in demand and interest… and it’s all over New South Wales that we’ve had inquiries,” she said.
It wasn’t just the sheep farmers who named Ms Stewart, who adopted the breed seven years ago.
She has received a number of requests from cattle breeders who cannot afford to return to the market after significant stock clearance.
Ms Stewart said minimal maintenance is also of interest to many already busy enough farmers.
“As we started to rain and feed, the prices for livestock were just a little too high for them to dive too fast, so I think Australian whites are the second best thing,” said Ms Stewart.
“They can treat them like cattle, they only require minimal maintenance compared to wool breeds, so it’s a simpler option.
“I think this is great for the meat mutton industry… we are really happy with the situation of the white Australian race and their leadership.”
The breeder has always known the potential
The breed was first introduced to Australia in 2011 by the Gilmore family near Oberon on the Central Tablelands.
This stems from a visit Graham Gilmore made to Brazil, where he noticed a high-haired sheep for meat.
“The Australian White is grown here using four different breeds, and in cooler conditions they are able to grow some kind of down on top to keep them warm,” he said.
“Then comes summer, they get rid of that and they come back to their hair, they’re ideal for our conditions here at an elevation of 1,200 meters.”
Fast forward a decade and it was at a sale on his property, Tattykeel, that the record ram price of $ 53,000 was paid, while the 226 sheep sold for $ 1.766 million.
Mr Gimore said there was such interest in the world in Australian white sheep that demand exceeded supply.
Locally, he also saw more and more woolen producers looking to raise meat sheep as shearers became difficult to find and wool prices remained volatile.
“I’ve been shearing since I was 16, and moving into a high-haired sheep for meat certainly makes life a lot easier.”
Hungry for mutton
In its most recent industry projections, Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) has shown that demand for Australian mutton has held up despite the impacts of COVID-19.
For 2020, Australians consumed 6 kilograms of lamb per person, while globally, China and the United States remained the largest importers of our lamb and mutton.
Mr Gilmore said the taste quality of the Australian white sheep was another reason for the breed’s growth.
“We found that the cross has unique properties in its taste quality and this comes from the low melting point of the fat,” he said.
“It’s a problem in lamb where you have fat residue in your mouth – you won’t get that from white Australians if raised properly.”
However, record prices at the yard mean retail prices for Australian mutton are rising as well.
Lamb prices are currently 33 percent higher than pork and double those of chicken, according to MLA.
This means that justifying prices and offering good value for money is paramount for producers to ensure that demand for their product remains strong.
Something Mr Gilmore said the industry will continue to do by improving genetics and regularly testing the quality of the diet.
“We take biopsies from our best stocks and select the ones with the best melting points.”