There wasn’t a dry eye in the Women In Wool International Women’s Day event on Friday as fifth generation New South Wales woolgrower Kristen Frost took the floor.
The Thalabah Merino Stud co-principal and The Land’s national sheep and wool writer delivered the sad news that her father and inspiration, John “Sam” Williams, had died four weeks’ prior.
“With him, he took a massive amount of knowledge and unwavering passion for the Merino wool industry,” she said, through tears.
“But what he did leave was a legacy, not to mention a huge pair of shoes to fill.
“Family legacy is not just about what has been created, but about the story that we are a part of and share.”
The passionate woolgrower is continuing on his legacy, paving her own path in the Merino industry, and having a “red hot crack” at contributing to it in the way her father did so during his lifetime.
“My dad’s passion and dedication in pursuing his ambition to breed the perfect Merino at the family property Thalabah, Laggan, was legendary,” she said.
Mrs Frost said he had success in the 1970s, 80s and early 90s under the stud name Koonwarra, following his desire against the odds to breed a fine to fine-medium wool type Merino with enormous size and physical presence.
Calling the resultant sheep a “revelation,” she said Koonwarra became a parent stud of the modern era.
While she said the goal of Thalabah had not changed, the industry had since the “glory days” before the turn of the century.
Now facing volatile markets, battling against cropping and mixed farming land, meat sheep breeds, mulesing debates, shearer shortages and competition with synthetic fibres, Mrs Frost said today’s woolgrowers were facing a “vastly different” time in the industry.
“I am not saying it was easy for dad to do what he did, but I believe he and all Merino breeders during that halcyon period of the wool industry certainly didn’t have the challenges or adversities we face now,” Mrs Frost said.
“We will advance with technology and we will continue to evolve with the Merino as it adapts to the changing demands of the industry.”
The mother of four considered the greatest issue facing the industry today to be the dwindling numbers of Merino ewes.
She called the Merino ewe the “cornerstone” of the Australian sheep industry and engine room for the prime lamb industry, with their dwindling numbers a “major worry” moving forward.
“It seems very apt to me that on this day when we are talking about women and their achievements that we talk about the incredible underestimated importance of the Merino ewe in the sheep industry,” she said.
To do their part, Mrs Frost said they were looking to increase their number of sheep shorn from 4000 to 6000 by 2026.
“The estimated stock of the Merino ewe base at a national level indicates Merino ewes for breeding have fallen by around one million head, while the numbers for crossbred and other non-Merino types has increased by 1.75 million head over the two-year period,” she said.
“We take for granted where we are and we are the best country in the world to produce the best Merino in the world.
“I realise a lot of decisions in businesses are made on profitability margins.
“But the modern day Merinos are doing their job in providing the meat side of the equation to help those margins and they have become incredibly competitive when it comes to the sheepmeat market.”
She said Merinos today were more fertile and had better carcases to those bred 30 years ago, with Merino lamb prices competitive with crossbreds, as well as having a wool cut.
“They are an amazing animal and can do amazing things in an enterprise as well as being used as a natural risk management tool,” she said.
“I have to believe my dad will be proud of any attempt I and my young family are making to preserve the life of our Merino operation, our stud and our industry.”