Moving with the times

Twelve years ago, Bella Lana hosted their first annual Merino ram sale. When The Land Newspaper featured a photo of their best-performing ram, the industry’s reaction was one of shock. Today, wool-growers across the country are following their lead.

IMAGE: Traditional Merino bloodlines. Supplied by the Brien family.

Twenty years ago, Merino sheep were judged – among other factors – on their layers upon layers of skin, based on the theory that more wrinkles equals more wool. 

And so, when the Brien family held their stud’s first ram sale featuring sheep that – as Scott described – looked more like a thoroughbred than a traditional Merino, many woolgrowers were taken aback. 

The rams that Bella Lana Merinos put forward were far more “plain” than any of the sheep in the show-rings at the time. When The Land Newspaper published a photo of these rams, many readers wrote in questioning the paper’s decision to run it. 

IMAGE: Photo originally published in The Land following Bella Lana’s first ram sale in 2007. Supplied by the Brien family.

As early adopters of the late Jim Watt’s advice, the Briens moved away from the thick, heavy skinfolds of traditional Merinos into the new style: soft rolling skin without the need for mulesing. Despite the initial skepticism, as time passed, more and more woolgrowers followed suit. 

But Scott Brien’s passion for the Merino was born far before this. 

“Growing up on the farm with all the cousins and whatnot – it was such a fantastic time. We had so much fun playing footy, swimming in dams, building cubby houses,” Scott said.

“When I was a boy, I remember getting off the school bus when we were shearing and you’d run up to the shearing shed and you’d raid dad’s tucker box to see what he didn’t eat at afternoon tea and then we’d jump in the wool bins in for the next hour.”

“I remember going to the local show not long after that and seeing these Merino sheep in pens and they just looked magnificent. It’s something that I knew I wanted to do.”

Scott’s daughters seem to have inherited this same passion; it’s their inputs that help keep Bella Lana Merinos moving with the times. 

Hannah, the youngest of the three girls, sees their farming operation from a particularly interesting perspective. She divides her time between working with the sheep and studying a degree in sustainable communities online. 

“[Uni] has actually been a bit of a contrast to what I know because the agricultural industry is really not painted in a good light,” Hannah said.

“There’s lots of talking about moving towards insect-based diets and plant-based diets and how that could change and feed the growing population. It’s very different.”

From her position, Hannah can see clearly the divide between her two worlds. It’s something that she wants to bridge. 

Today, Bella Lana is part of Responsible Wool Standards, an Australian wool selling group with members making up only one percent of the Australian wool clip. To be a part of this group, the Briens have to prove their sheep have been responsibly shorn, non mulesed and ethically raised. The chemicals and fertilisers used have to meet a strict criteria of sustainability.  

“The push is coming from the end user, the people that buy the garments.”

“They’re the ones that want non mulesed wool because they don’t want to see pictures of sheep being surgically mulesed anymore. So if we’re gonna keep selling our product, we have to keep up with what they want.”

To understand more about the people behind Australian Merino wool, listen to Scott and Hannah’s story on your favourite podcast platform or via the link below.

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