Merino breeders sashed in Sydney

2021 Merino judging winner Ben Hartwich, left, with runner-up Campbell Rubie, third placegetter Sym Hood and fourth placegetter Will Hacker.

By Fiona Gowers

The Hacker family’s Merino sheep heritage shone at the Sydney Royal Easter Show in 2022 where fourth generation breeders Phillipa and William placed in judging competitions.

Phillipa, 25, came third in Merino sheep and fleece this year, while William, 23, placed fourth in the same categories for last year.

Due to Covid cancellations, Sydney hosted Merino judging for the 2022 and 2021 finalists.

Both siblings were raised on the family’s Roselea Merino stud in Muckadilla, Queensland.

In her first Merino judging competition at the Longreach State Sheep Show in 2021, Phillipa beat five other entrants to qualify for this year’s “nationals” in Sydney.

She joked that Lorraine Crothers, a Queensland Ag Shows board member “dragged me into” competing.

“I wasn’t very confident at all,” Phillipa said. “I surprised myself and a few other people, I think.

“I have always really enjoyed the Merino sheep and must have absorbed a lot more information over the years than I thought.

“I am very proud to come from a long line of Merino breeders and I was so proud to represent our family.”

Phillipa, a first year primary school teacher in St George, said she loved heading home and helping during the school holidays.

She said she had met a “really great mix of people” through the competition including many women competitors, high school and agricultural college students.

Her brother, William, meanwhile, earned his place at nationals – also for Merino sheep and fleece judging – at the Roma State Sheep Show in 2019.

He runs Womba Contracting through southern and central Queensland and placed fourth in Merino sheep and fleece competitions.

“It’s really your opinion on the day and justifying why you have put something where it is, justifying why you have made a certain decision,” he said.

“It’s always interesting to meet like-minded people (through the competition) and see what they’re up to.”

Ben Hartwich, 22, from Bullygrogran near Ararat in Victoria is Australia’s best young Merino sheep judge for 2021. The 2022 winner is Patrick Davis, 18, from Harden, New South Wales.

Runner-up for the 2021 Merino judging is Campbell Rubie, 18, from Forbes, NSW and third is Sym Hood, 19, from Longford, Tasmania.

The 2022 runner-up is Ashley Meaburn, 20, from Runnymede in Tasmania, with Ms Hacker third.

Agricultural Shows Australia (ASA) stages the national championships of young judges and paraders competitions with finalists from each state of Australia and New Zealand.

The ASA holds the national championships in a different location each year.

Although Merino judging is subjective, the ASA said the competition judges paid close attention to how clearly competitors expressed their decision and how they validated it.

A competitor’s appearance is also important and judges can mark down for poor presentation, ASA said.

ASA chairman Dr Rob Wilson said the peak body oversaw 572 agricultural shows in Australia, which attract six million visitors annually and contribute nearly $1 billion to the national economy.

He said the competition was designed to recognise the best new talent in livestock judging nationwide.

“It’s an extremely prestigious event and positions at the nationals are keenly contested,” he said.

“These young people are the future of agricultural show competitions which are crucial to the continual improvement of Australia’s food and fibre.

“The national competition is a coveted opportunity to grow personally and professionally by practising skills against the cream of the crop.”

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