More than in the blood

WOMAN OF WOOL: Lou Hanmer believes in the importance of ongoing education and using the best technology to constantly improve quality.

WOMAN OF WOOL: Lou Hanmer believes in the importance of ongoing education and using the best technology to constantly improve quality.

THE POWER OF A PAIR OF HANDS: Meet Miranda Pereira, the second Woman of Wool 2014.

THE importance of ongoing education and using the best technology to constantly improve quality is a subject dear to Lou Hanmer’s heart. 

That and keeping rural industries viable in order to provide a farming future for young people.

When Lou Hanmer watches her young daughters out in the paddocks with their grandfather and the Merinos, she knows they are a long way shy of understanding what microns and genetics mean, let alone what it takes to retain a profitable industry and healthy export markets.

They are the same paddocks, along the Avoca River near Wycheproof, where as a young girl Lou helped her dad, Doug Todd, shift the sheep and sweep up in the shearing shed. But, losing her mother at 11 saw her spending a lot more time among the Merinos and the development of a very keen eye.

But, as time passes, like many children of farming families, Lou could have become more attracted to the city lights and centres of employment. Secondary school lay in Melbourne at Methodist Ladies College and the wool in the blood then found an outlet in work experience at the Australian Wool Corporation in the heart of urban Parkville.

But, for Lou the sights and sounds of Ninuenook Stud were powerful. “Droving a mob of sheep along a fence line on a calm, sunny day. From the flank you can see all the way along the mob and take in the way each animal walks, the way they hold their head, the structure of their legs, the depth of their side and shape of their hindquarter,” she says

Lou would be looking at the individuals. “I will be working out if that lovely ewe is the same one that was in the third race when we were classing them earlier. Is she the one that was sired by that ram that is so familiar? Was she the one that produced beautiful, pearly wool?”

In the ram shed she would observe the young ones and pick out the most alert and confident and those that would go on to be the top sires. The same with the ewes – those with the placid, calm temperament and more open faces that would become good mothers.

In the shearing shed she would always be looking for a better fleece than the last that landed on the table, flicking over the edges to see the deeply crimped white, to feel the softness and to find the best of the day.

Loving the land and what it produces is one thing, but to doggedly pursue the quest for excellence requires constant learning. Lou started by qualifying in wool classing in Bendigo and still maintains that women make some of the best wool classers we have. She went on to study at Glenormiston Agricultural College In Western Victoria and in spite of her upbringing, went back to some important basics.

A year jillarooing at the Barcaldine Downs Merino Stud in Western Queensland offered a whole different environment. Here her mentor – a stockman and overseer – encouraged her into dog trials, sheep counting contests and junior judging. Each day was a challenge to improve the skills. 

Another year followed at One Oak Stud in NSW and then on to Bonooke Merino Stud in the Riverina to work as a ram shed stud groom. It was time for a break and 12 months of overseas travel, but Lou started in South Africa visiting Merino studs. Then Lou came home to Nanuenook and started applying all that knowledge alongside her dad. 

The aim at Nineuenook is to breed profitable Merinos without wrinkle on structurally correct frames, produce lambs large enough to sell as Export Merino lambs, plus fine white Merino Wool along the SRS methods with their exceptional follicle density that goes to produce a valuable fleece - one that increases in weight and value each year.

They also aim to promote co-operation between all Merino Breeders in the hope that Australia does retain a profitable Merino industry and a healthy export trade in prime merino wether lamb. 

For Lou, it was about an entire industry, so she put time into being president of the Loddon Valley Stud Merino Breeders and became a Merino show judge. 

She had come to love the selection and breeding side of the stud work. “We undertook a big Cervical AI program annually and saw rapid inprovements in the quality and quanity of wool produced and in the frame of the sheep. I learnt how to do the procedure myself and was able to selectively join the ewes as they came up the race. I had good success with the method achieving 80 per cent lambing often, with the back up lambing bring in 120 per cent lambing often.” 

What Lou had constantly been exposed to on the journey, she says, was invaluable mentoring. This capturing of the knowledge of generations of farmers and at the same time learning to embrace new technologies is vital for young farmers. “It’s learning from a wide variety of people,” she says. Junior judging is a great way to learn and these young people, she says, should attach themselves to a good mentor. “Life on the land is busy, but young farmers should make the time to mix with a lot of other experienced wool growers,” she says.

While Lou remains involved in the Nanuenook Stud, when love came to town in the form of farmer, Phil Hanmer, she found herself moving to the Riverina near Deniliquin on a grain farm.

Now raising three daughters, Sarah, Jessica and Emily, she still gets involved in promoting wool at local food and fibre events, while the girls grow up in a ‘wholesome and healthy environment’. And, they can still go to granddad’s and get among the Merinos.

The Nanuenook Merinos will be shown at the Australian Sheep & Wool Show in Bendigo from 18-20 July.

Lou Hanmer is one of two women honoured as the Australian Sheep and Wool Show 2014 Women of Wool. 


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