Sheep farmers Steve and Kellie Nichol, of Clarks Junction, were delighted when their fleece won the crossbred ewe and champion crossbred titles in the National Golden Fleece Competition in Wanaka last month.

''It was the first time we had entered the Golden Fleece competition and we had not expected to win, but we were pleasantly surprised,'' Mr Nichol said.

They had entered the same fleece in the Otago Taieri A&P Show earlier in the year and it won the crossbred ewe and supreme champion fleece titles.

The fleece was awarded 98.5 out of 100 points at the show and 98 at the June event.

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''The Golden Fleece judge said it was one of the better crossbred fleeces he had seen for a while.''

Mr Nichol said the judges had mentioned the fleece had a nice, even crimp and good weight and cover and weighed 6kg greasy and 4.7kg cleaned.

In addition, the 37.5-micron fleece was judged on colour, soundness, staple length, staple formation, handling/lustre/ brightness and bulk, as well as freedom from fault.

Unfortunately, when he returned to retrieve the fleece from the competition venue, it had been packed in a fadge with others that were not collected.

Mr Nichol said that breeding had a lot to do with the fleece quality and he sourced his rams from Orari Gorge Romneys in Geraldine.

He also selected the sheep with poorer wool types with his wool agent to go to to the terminal ram, which also helped with quality.

The couple have a 4-month­-old daughter, Mia, and own a 980ha property near Clarks Junction, running about 3800 Romney­ Texel ewes and 1100 replacement hoggets.

''We run all sheep at the moment but do occasionally bring in grazing cattle.''

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The lambing percentage was about 148% and their weight at weaning about 17kg to 18kg.

''We are flexible around our selling policy, so we are happy to go to either store or prime depending on the season.''

As the property runs from about 450m to 700m, they have two or three major snow events a year, and sometimes have snow in December and January.

Lambing starts about mid­-September.

''I have an easy-care system in terms of lambing and go around every second day to sort out any issues.''

The sheep are winter-fed on swede, turnips and baleage and there are few animal health or parasite issues.

Part of the farm belonged to his parents, and he has been farming on his own account since 2007.

His three brothers also farm nearby.

The potential competition fleeces are selected during shearing, starting this week, and he uses his experienced wool agent and a rousie to keep an eye on likely contenders, and put them to one side.

''They pick out a few and we go through them and we choose one or two to go to the shows.

''The wool agent and rousie know what they are looking for.

''They play a big part in how we do.''

He paid tribute to his wife for all the work she did.

yvonne.ohara@alliedpress.co.nz

Southern Rural Life