Discerning market for ultra-fine fibre

Discerning market for ultra-fine fibre
Forest Range’s merino ram sires

Set against the stunning backdrop of the Lindis Valley’s golden tussock hills in the South Island, Forest Range Merinos claims to be the world’s largest producer of super-fine merino wool.
The eastern boundary of the station lies along State Highway 8 which crosses the Lindis Pass, to Lake Hawea in the west and is owned by the Emmerson family, Russell, his wife Jeanette and son David who has 50% ownership.
The family has been associated with Forest Range Station for more than 100 years; the 18,500 hectare property supports 10,000 breeding ewes, 5000 hoggets, 600 rams and about 130 cattle.
Its topography, climate and the nature of its pastures means lambing typically averages just 85%, although it’s elite flock can lamb up to 120%.
The scale of the station means one of its most crucial assets is a Robinson R22 helicopter which both Russell and David have licenses to fly. With this, travel across the station and jobs that could take hours or days are reduced to minutes and hours.
Forest Range Merinos are bred for the production of exquisite fibre to satisfy the world’s most discerning textile manufacturers’ specifications and are Australasia’s most advanced, objectively bred ultra-fine merinos.
Through world leading genetic selection, since 1987 wool micron has reduced from 19 microns to average just 13.2 today and once processed, its attributes are superior to cotton, silk or Cashmere, Russell says. “We’ve got lines of wool in the sub-twelve micron,” Russell says.
“We claim that we are the largest producer in the world of this ultra-fine wool and it’s simply because we’ve used a geneticist’s model without any deviation whatsoever in terms of driving that micron down and increasing clean fleece weight.”
This has been achieved by breeding through analysis overseen by geneticists Professor Dorian Garrick and Ric Sherlock, previously from Massey University and now in private practice.
The breeding programme has been in place for over 30 years and has enabled Forest Range Merinos to screen in excess of 200,000 sheep for their fleece diameter, weight and quality.
As well as using objectively measured data, the sheep undergo a rigorous visual assessment for structural soundness and wool quality prior to qualifying for its elite and commercial flocks.

Discerning market for ultra-fine fibre
The cycle of ultra-fine wool at Forest Range Station – Ewe hoggets; shearing and weighing fleeces; the stacked wool clip; wool transported to market.

 
The elite flock comprises 10% of the total flock and is used for breeding the stud rams that continue the unique process of producing superior ultra-fine fibres.
Russell says achieving ultra-fine wool requires close attention to animal health and a grazing programme that has to be extremely well planned.
“It’s a specialist area at this finer edge (of micron) and there’s a very limited market globally, but there’s some huge premiums out there for it.” Those premiums are commercially sensitive, he says.
The station produces over 40 tonnes of wool annually, sold directly to a major exporter and textile processors, bypassing the entire traditional New Zealand auction process.
Forest Range Merinos and Lindis Fibre are gaining traction as internationally registered brands and are being supplied to manufacturers of extremely high class apparel.
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