The sheep living at Chris Cocker and Shelley Saunders’s Nile property are happy little vegemites. Their world is meticulously monitored and controlled, but at the same time these wooly beauties are free to just be themselves. Welcome to Barega Merinos.
It may come as no surprise that ultrafine and superfine wool is grown at Chris and Shelleys farm, nestled in the northern midlands of Tasmania. When you delve a little deeper, there is so much more to this property than just traditional wool and farming practices. Barega is one of a kind and pathing the way for a new generation of merinos.
Coming in at an astonishing 14.2 – 16.5 micron Barega wool is not only a treat for the eyes with its fine (but bold) crimp and gorgeous lustre, but is one of natures wonders. Bred specifically to be worn close to skin, itchy wooly jumpers are just non existent in the world of Barega. Running my hands through the fleeces in the woolshed was like handling silk, cashmere. Even that doesn’t cut it really. The softness is like holding air.
The fleece will win even the hardest hands over quite easily and the sheep producing it, well they are something else.
Traditionally super/ultrafine merinos have been small little darlings with wrinkly skin and prone to pesky problems like flystrike. Prevention for this had been muelsing and tail docking. While the wool may have traditional traits, the bodies growing it are new age thanks to careful genetic selection and the infusion of SRS (soft rolling skin) merinos.
The skins of Barega merinos have been ironed out, where there once was folds, there now is ‘plain’ skin. What this means for the sheep is their breeches are bare and smooth skinned eliminating the need for muelsing. Down the right track for ethichal farming. But, it doesn’t stop there. The traditional long tails of merinos are weak and the perfect breeding ground for disease. Prevention had always meant tail docking.
With careful genetic selection, these merinos are now only growing short tails strong enough to be lifted when needed, naturally eliminating any disease or flystrike risk. Tail docking, along with muelsing are now just a distant memory. Ethical livestock treatment is paramount for Chris and Shelley and they fully understand that the health and wellbeing of their stock also starts from the ground up.
Low stress animal management, minimal human interference, pasture regeneration and diversity, biosecurity and even compost teas to encourage active soil biology are just some of the many stringent farming practices in place. Put them all together and you’ve got a sustainable, ethical, contemporary woolgrowing property pathing the way for the future generation of super/ultrafine merinos.
On a personal note – while the property and sheep are incredible (Chris and Shelley too), I was also impressed at the time and effort Shelley is investing to do her bit to promote the wool industry and educate others, not only on what her farm does but the benefits of wool. Visit her website – www.baregamerino.com.au and be inspired by her promotion of our industry.