IF the prices paid for Merino rams this season are any guide, the trend is back to big wool cuts.
But there is also more, according to South Australian stud breeder Andrew Michael.
"The demand is also for fertility, plainer bodies and no horns," he said.
Mr Michael's Leahcim Poll Merino at Snowtown saw that trend first-hand last month when he cleared his entire offering of 200 rams for an average of $2988 and a record gross of $597,600.
Mr Michael said he believed he was seeing the emergence of a new generation of breeders who used genetic performance data to boost the productivity of their flocks.
Leahcim's sale average was $900 up on last year's clearance of 176 rams.
The Leahcim demand for plainer-bodied, productive sheep was repeated at Bill Walker's multi-vendor Classings sale at Murray Bridge, where 95 rams averaged $4878, and at the Carter family's Wallaloo Park, with an average of $3495 from 143 rams.
At the Classings and Wallaloo Park sales, the top money was paid for polled rams.
Mr Michael said 120 of the 200 Merino rams sold to NSW clients, who were looking to breed an easy-care, plain-bodied, dual-purpose sheep. To back up the demand at the auction, Mr Michael said he sold another 120 rams privately the next day.
Mr Michael said, while he believed many of the buyers were not fussed about the mulesing issue, they were definitely looking for rams to 'de-wrinkle' their flocks. Leahcim has been very public on the mulesing issue.
"We stopped mulesing in 2004, not because of PETA but because we didn't have to mules," Mr Michael said. "If the world today said it didn't mind mulesing, I still wouldn't go back to it."
He described as "sensational" the contract by JBS Australia for UK retailer Tesco to source only lambs from non-mulesed flocks because it would provide marketing opportunities for sheep breeders who had moved away from mulesing.
Three years ago, he estimated that ceasing mulesing had added $9.90 to the value of lamb because of reduced labour, less weight loss from the trauma of the operation and fewer chemicals. On the current values for lambs, Mr Michael said the savings would be considerably higher.
Leahcim joins a 2000-stud ewes plus its ewe lambs at seven months. On breech scores, he estimated only eight of this year's rams would have been scored, on the scale 1-5, with a score of 2.
All the rest were score 1.
Murray Bridge sheep classer Bill Walker said the Wallaloo Park sale was a stunner.
"It epitomised what we are on this Earth for - to produce top-end fibre of market please carcasses."
Mr Walker said many of the studs and commercial breeders from southeast NSW and western Victoria were now surpassing many of the traditional studs which he believed had been "loitering and generally hosting tired old fashioned enterprises".