A HUMBLE beginning and a passion for evolution has helped Morley Poll Merino stud to its 50th year and gain a respected position within the sheep industry.
The stud was pioneered by Alex Horne, a dedicated stockman from Cleve and the stud's genetics began with Ashrose and Mount Glen View ewe bloodlines, after Alex decided he wanted to breed an early-maturing sheep.
Early on in his career, Alex was somewhat of a "trailblazer" within the industry and decided he would sell stud rams as hoggets, much earlier than other studs at the time, according to his daughter, Leonie Mills.
So, he bought a ram from Mitsham Poll Merino stud, Cummins, that matched his breeding aims.
"He was always prepared to adopt new ways of breeding - Dad never ran horned sheep and always sold rams at about 14 months old, which eventually became the norm for studs," Ms Mills said.
But Alex's bucking of trends did not stop there, when he allowed Leonie to return home to the farm in 1980.
"I left school at 16 and basically became an apprentice under Dad, I had many girlfriends at school who unfortunately were not given that option," Mrs Mills said.
"Dad was prepared to let whichever interested child to take over the stud - again a very 'ahead of the times' move," she said.
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When Leonie and her husband Jon were handed the baton to continue the stud's direction in 1996, it was then that Mrs Mills began to put into practice the "hundreds" of tips from her father.
"I definitely served a very good apprenticeship in the early days and most of what I learnt is still being used to today," Mrs Mills said.
"The stud has also evolved a lot since then but Dad is still very much involved," she said.
The stud has maintained about 900 to 1000 breeding ewes for past few decades and infusing mostly Collinsville bloodlines to help reduce wool micron but maintain quality conformation.
"In the early days, ewes had about a 24-micron fleece but these days, it would not be higher than 19.5M," Mrs Mills said.
"Stud rams are about 18.5M and lowering the micron would probably be the greatest change at the stud - we wanted to meet market demand," she said.
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After helping to bring the stud into the 1990's with a solid reputation for breeding versatile sheep, in 1996, Mrs Mills found her place in the Royal Adelaide Show ring.
After winning multiple broad ribbons that year, the stud also took a punt on the Adelaide Ram Sale and offered stud star, Duke 290.
The Collinsville-bld ram was subsequently sold for $10,000 to large-scale farming enterprise, Jumbuck Pastoral.
"That was a big moment for us - a pretty big 'koo'," Mrs Mills said.
"The Maclachlan family bought that ram to breed their own rams so that was pretty impressive for us," she said.
The following year, the stud also won Grand Champion Poll Merino ram with Big Blue at the Royal Adelaide Show.
Big Blue was offered in the ram sale that year and sold for $20,000 to Eungai Merino Stud, Miling WA.
The sash winning ram was named Big Blue after the judge at the time said it was largest sheep he had ever seen.
"Those milestones showed us that we were on the right track," Mrs Mills said.
"It was all the years beforehand of learning of how to prepare and market our sheep that helped to get our stud's name out there," she said.
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Despite achieving great success in the show ring for many years, Mrs Mills personal highlight came in 2000, when she was asked to judge the Merinos at Royal Adelaide Show.
"As far as I know, Heather Dalla and I were the first women to be asked to judge at royal show," she said.
"It was an absolute honour that my knowledge was appreciated at that level."
Mrs Mills is also in her fourth consecutive year as a part of the Merino SA management committee.
"I hope to continue that role in the future," she said.
Fostering youth into the sheep industry has also become an unexpected part of the stud's future, after Mrs Mills took on a school-based apprentice a year and a half ago.
"We are really enjoying her youthful perspective in the stud," she said.
"As our client base rolls over to the next generation, we are also very conscious of keeping up with the latest technology needed so we can provide the depth of information about our sheep that clients are looking for."
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