Outstanding Merino rams with the potential to be 'curve benders' in the industry have long attracted keen interest from breeders who have been prepared to pay 'record' prices to take home the ram of their dreams.
During the halcyon days enjoyed by the wool industry, incredible prices were paid for Merino rams in the hope their genetic potential would more than compensate the enormous outlay of capital.
So what happened to the industry's most expensive sire prospects? Did they prove a worthy investment and breed on?
The top price honours in simple dollar terms remains with the Collinsville stud at Burra, South Australia.
It was Art Collins during his tenure as studmaster who set the standard which was taken up in later years by Tom Padbury, studmaster for the Collins family and then Neil Garnett while he was the owner of the Collinsville operation.
Collinsville's $450,000 record
The all-time record price in nominal terms is $450,000 (valued at $967,890 today) paid for J.C and S Lustre 53 sold at the 1989 Royal Adelaide Show on account of Neil Garnett, Collinsville, Burra, SA, and bought by Richard Nitschke, Willogoleche Merino stud, Hallett.
Mr Nitschke was no stranger to paying high prices for Collinsville-bred rams to use in the stud founded by his father in 1955.
In 1987, he outlaid $215,000 ($533,100 today) for J.C and S 14, named Bicentenary 88 at 1987 Adelaide Show ram sales.
The Willogoleche stud since dispersed and although they were used extensively in an AI program, the influence of those rams is unknown.
The Collinsville stud founded by John Collins in 1895 and developed by his sons Melvin and Art became renowned for the high prices and during the 1960s under the stewardship of Art Collins 'record' prices were paid in succession at the Royal Adelaide Show ram sales.
It was a tradition continued when Neil Garnett bought the stud flock and property from the Collins family in 1985.
He also sold a Poll Merino ram for $110,000 at the 1987 Adelaide ram sales.
In 1989, a three-quarter share in J.C and S 20 valued at $360,000 ($774,311) was paid by a consortium of South African-based studs during the Royal Adelaide Show ram sales.
Dubbo ram sale hits $330,000
At the Dubbo ram sales in 1988, there was great excitement when the record price for that venue of $330,000 ($693,870 valued today) was paid for J.C and S 122 from the Collinsville stud, Burra, SA.
During that sale, the presence of a flamboyant property developer from the Gold Coast was obvious. Mike Gore was newly kitted out in R.M Williams clothing and attracted by the glamour of the industry.
He had recently purchased a property near Moree and planned to show what he referred to as an 'ignorant industry' how to make a fortune from breeding Merino sheep.
After studying the catalogue and listening to agents advice for two and with a gut feeling, Mike Gore became the centre of attention when he paid $190,000 for a ram offered by George Falkiner, Haddon Rig.
But that sale paled somewhat when a few minutes later he secured the Collinsville-bred ram for his new business venture.
It was not to be for Mike Gore or the wool industry; within six years of those purchases he was dead and the dream died with him.
The rams disappeared somewhere and no one is really confident enough to suggest their fate.
The 1980s had been a decade of boom for the wool industry and with large numbers of flock rams sold for excellent prices on the back of a run of good seasons, it seemed the right time for stud breeders to re-invest some of that income into stud improving rams.
Lord George boasts $120,000
At the 1989 Melbourne Sheep Show ram sales, Ross Wells, Willandra, Jerilderie was taken by a ram bred in Queensland, but which he thought would be a valuable addition to the genetic strength of his stud.
During the period of inspections prior to the sale, Mr Wells stood within a short distance of the ram and approached those he thought were showing an extra interest in the sheep.
"There was a lot of influential people looking at the ram and I told them I am going to buy that ram," he recalled.
"And if you want to buy semen, at this moment it is $20 a dose but on the fall of the hammer it will be $30."
It takes a really good ram to be a world beater and they are few.
With some committed buyers prepared to buy semen, Mr Wells had $100,000 'in his pocket' when the bidding started.
He paid $120,000 ($258,100 today) for the ram bred by George Clark, Tibbereenah, The Gums, Queensland, and that price stands as a record for the Melbourne ram sales. The sale is also on record for the highest priced ram purchased into the Riverina.
Mr Wells named the ram Lord George and said there was a lot of interest in the ram because of his very soft handling and deep crimped wool.
"We had gone through a period when a lot of introductions from SA had come into the studs and with the wet years we probably saw a lot of green wool," he said.
"So we were all very interested in rams with quality wool but with frame and bulk and the ram bred by George Clark seemed to fit our requirements."
Although Lord George was bred 'in the purple', a son of Manderley 3088 bought by then studmaster of Roseville Park Graham Coddington in the pen of ram lambs offered at the dispersal of the Manderley stud at Cooma, the ram's progeny did not reach the heights expected.
"He was not a spectacular breeder," Mr Wells said.
Billa Burra Burra's $110,000 ram
In 2001 at the Dubbo ram sales, Jim Ashby, Southrose Merino stud, Tintinara, SA purchased Billa Burra Burra 9.2 bred by Keith McGrath, Yass for $110,000 ($169,700 today).
The ram was by a ram lamb, son of Tara Park Sydney Supreme by Tara Park A11, who was a son of Merryville Anzac.
His dam was a daughter of BBB 4.2 (Cloudy), a son of Tara Park Joe who was sired by Tara Park Gruber in turn a son of Manderley 2.1 by Manderley 8.3 by a Buckinbah son of an Austin-Wanganella family in the stud at St George operated by the late Claude Bowhay.
The dam of Cloudy was a Merryville-bred ewe from the Merryville Uniform family.
Keith McGrath said the ewe was a big, heavy-boned and strong-headed special ewe.
"She bred a bit thicker than most people liked but we got some very good stock from that family, they bred true to type," he said.
"We can take our pedigrees back for 30 generations on both sides and if you don't get genetic strength from both sides they won't breed on."
Mr McGrath said he had heard the ram bred very well for the Southrose stud and their clients, but the stud was dispersed in 2014.
Smithy sets new benchmark
The $100,000 paid for Glenlea Park 'Smithy' offered by Peter and Marianne Wallis, Glenlea Park, Pinnaroo, SA set another benchmark for the wool industry as it moved through a period of restructure following a devastating drought.
During the 2019 ram sale at Adelaide, the purchaser Will Lynch, Boorana stud, Woorndoo, Victoria, was attracted by the 119.5 kilograms ram's wool quality and structure.
"Quite a few sheep have unbelievable structure but not the best wool or vice versa but he ticked both boxes," he said.
"He has a great shape, great structure, good constitution and great through the back end with a really high quality wool."
The 20.8 micron ram offered by Peter and Marianne Wallis was sired by GP881 and is a grandson of Moorundie Park 306 'Kelvinator', which sold at the Adelaide sale a few years ago for $53,000.
The top price sale included semen shares to Tracey and Joe Dahlitz, Roemahkita, Cummins and large scale commercial producers A.J and P.A McBride for their ram breeding flock.
Peter Wallis described the ram as the best he had ever bred and said the price was absolutely fantastic.
"But what is more satisfying is the validation a sale like that gives you as a breeder, suggesting that you are breeding a highly desirable type," he said.
"Half-way through the year I thought that is a wool that is not often seen in the industry on a frame that is pretty correct so he had a lot going for him."
Potential of 1990 Dubbo ram worth $90k
Offered by Keith McGrath and coming from a long line of genetic strength in his Billa Burra Burra stud at Yass, the top priced ram at Dubbo in 1990 was purchased by Graham Coddington, Roseville Park, Dubbo and Stephen Swain, Genagie, Peak Hill.
The sale attracted a lot of comment, it being the best price paid at that venue for some years and there was a fair bit of interest in the ram.
David Millthorpe, Somerset, Jerilderie was the losing bidder.
Recalling the ram, Mr Coddington said he was a Manderley blood ram and he felt at the time his genetics would 'click' with his Manderley blood sheep.
"For the time he had extreme staple length, his wool growing ability was exceptional," he said.
"He had a very sirey outlook and perfect conformation."
Mr Coddington said the ram sired a good line of daughters but not so many good sons.
"It takes a really good ram to be a world beater and they are few," he said.
Willandra ram demands attention
In 2015, a syndicate purchased a ram at the 37th annual on-property sale account Ross and Irene Wells, Willandra, Jerilderie for $81,000.
It was recorded as the record price for an on-property sale held in the Riverina.
The ram, 008, had been grand champion March-shorn ram at the 2015 Royal Adelaide Show in September.
Mr Wells said the ram drew a lot of excited attention at Adelaide where he had graduated through the Poll Merino strong wool classes.
With an eye muscle depth of 47mm, he was clearly 3mm ahead of the next contestant in the All-Purpose class at the Australian Sheep and Wool Show, Bendigo, in July before he went on to Adelaide.
Named Willandra Governor-General, the ram was purchased by a West Australian syndicate including Clinton Blight, Seymour Park Merinos, Highbury, Coromandel Poll Merino stud, Gairdner and Woolkabin Poll Merino stud, Woodanilling.
Semen shares were to be held by Kamora Park at Karoonda, Ridgway at Kulkami, Carriecowie at Brentwood, Babirra at Stansbury, Rices Creek at Saddleworth and Lachlan Merinos at Forbes.
The losing bidder was Nigel Kerin, Kerin Poll Merinos, Yeoval.
Mr Wells said the ram had a fantastic conformation with brilliant wool.
"He is the type of ram Merino breeders in WA and SA are looking for," Mr Wells said.
The ram was by GP, a ram sold to Geoff Peters, Ballatherie Poll Merinos, Hillston, in 2011 for $22,000.
But for all of the interest in the ram it was unfortunate his stud career was cut short.
At the commencement of the auction, Mr Wells announced he would be taking 1000 doses of semen before any money changed hands for the ram.
That was accepted by bidders but when the ram was being prepared to take the semen, he developed gall stones.
"He was in such pain and the agony could be seen on his face, we did the most humane thing possible and put the ram down," Mr Wells said. "It was a sad end to a ram which many thought could have done a lot of good for the Poll Merinos."
Collinsville ram showing appeal
At the 2019 Royal Adelaide Show ram sale Richard Chalker, Lach River Merinos, Darbys Falls paid $72,500 for the Collinsville-bred ram J.C and S 180641 from the Star Affair family.
Mr Chalker was very taken with the soft medium/strong wool type with crimpy wool, good lock and length of staple.
"We've sold a fair bit of semen, and have AI'd 250 ewes plus collected 148 eggs in a ET program and the ram was then joined to 60 ewes," he said.
Lambs are now hitting the ground and Mr Chalker said they had a lot of style and really appeal as newborns.
How ram prices sky rocketed from 1804 auctions
Just over 30 years ago $450,000 was paid for a Merino ram bred at the Collinsville stud, Burra, South Australia, and reported to be a world record at the time.
But what other values have Merino rams attracted throughout history?
The Land journalist Stephen Burns dived into the record books to investigate the effect highly valued sires had throughout the development of the pastoral industry.
The influence of high prices for Merino rams began when John Macarthur purchased rams at the first annual sale of Merino sheep from the flock of George III at Kew in 1804. He paid six pounds sterling 15 shillings for the first ram offered.
But before that purchase he had offered to pay 15 pounds sterling in 1797 for the part Merino sheep imported from the Cape of Good Hope by Captains Waterhouse and Kent.
By the second half of the 19th century, the revolution in Merino breeding was led by the Peppin brothers in the Riverina and others in South Australia and NSW.
The Peppin brothers paid eighty pounds sterling for a ram imported from the Rambouillet stud not far from Paris which they name Emperor and who fixed the type we now associate as the Australian Merino.
While they were still to fix their type at Wanganella, studs in Tasmania and later in Victoria held sway as the source of flock improving rams.
In November, 1881 the stud flock at Stony Point, Camperdown, Victoria bred by Thomas F Cumming went under the hammer.
At that dispersal sale, Nugget 3rd, a grandson of Sir Thomas, perhaps the most famous Merino ram during the late nineteenth century, was bought by Phillip Russell, Carngham, Ballarat, Vic for 1400 guineas.
It was until the turn of the twentieth century when woolgrowers were enjoying a long period of profitability that 'record' prices began to be paid for quality rams.
Walter Merriman bought a medium-wool sire, Sir Francis, bred in the Wanganella Estate stud, Conargo by F.S Falkiner and Sons for 1000 guineas ($102,511) as a five year old in 1917 after which Merryville became a closed flock. Sir Francis founded many influential sire lines.
Rams of 1920s rank among most expensive of all time
After the end of World War I, prosperity returned to the wool industry and with the increased demand for flock rams, studs were anxious to secure the best genetics they could.
During the 1920s metropolitan newspapers excitedly reported 'record' prices paid for rams, which were as famous as sports persons are today.
Two rams exemplified the interest.
In 1925, Wanganella 9.1 'Ballymena' bred at Austin-Wanganella was sold to Roy McCaughey, Coonong, Urana as a five-year-old ram for 5000 guineas ($427,130 today), a record at the time for that age.
He was named Ballymena when he reached Coonong by Roy McCaughey in honour of the Irish county in which his uncle Sir Samuel McCaughey had been born.
He was famous as the sire of the Australian Eleven and many other outstanding sire sons at Wanganella.
In the two years prior to being sold to Coonong, 22 rams sired by him were sold for an aggregate of 17,346 pounds ($1,443,312).
Of that draft, eight special rams were sold from 1000 guineas ($83,207) to 3050 guineas ($266,429).
One named Imperator 4.3 was bought by the McGeoch family, Roma Downs stud, Roma, Qld for 1600 guineas.
At Coonong, the progeny of Ballymena were an outstanding success and Tom Culley of Wonga fame who was stud overseer during the early 1930's clearly remembered the longevity of the sire line some fifty years later.
In August 1927, Frederick McMaster, Dalkeith, Cassilis sold his outstanding show ram, David of Dalkeith to Otway Falkiner, Boonoke North, Morundah for 5000 guineas ($431,929 today) plus the right to have 50 ewes joined at Boonoke.
He was a son of F2, reputed to be one of the greatest sires Otway Falkiner ever bred at that time and in 1926 had won the strong wool hogget prize at the Sydney Sheep Fair.
When shorn, his fleece weighed 19kg and the shearer claimed it was the densest fleece he had ever handled.
Such was his fame, the likeness of David of Dalkeith was used by H.C Sleigh and Company as the symbol for their Golden Fleece series of service stations.