Scientists search for shiny sheep

ALI TOCKER
Last updated 08:54 07/11/2012
Lambs
Fairfax NZ

LUSTROUS LAMBS:: If you’ve got a lamb that looks like a cross between a goat and a sheep then AgResearch wants to hear from you.

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AgResearch scientists are on the look-out for lustrous lambs, and want farmers' help to find them.

Scientist Dr David Scobie said the Crown research institute wants to hear of any lambs with unusual coats to help wool research. The call follows a find by a farmer of a lamb that looked like a cross between a goat and a sheep, with a particularly shiny coat, that turned out to be "all sheep".

"The unusual coat was the result of a natural mutation that enhanced the lustre characteristics of the wool," Scobie said. "These animals occur rarely, but they provide invaluable resources for wool studies."

The owner of the unusual animal informed AgResearch's enhanced wool quality project. The scientists genetically tested the animal and found it was 100 per cent sheep. Unfortunately, it did not survive into this season, hence the hunt for others like it.

"We are very interested in locating lambs with this unusual wool coat, because studying a naturally-occurring mutation with such a dramatic effect on fibre characteristics provides a unique opportunity to understand the genetic and physiological mechanisms affecting fibre quality."

"Lustre mutants" grow wool resembling that from "lustre breeds" like the english leicester, border leicester or lincoln, and to some degree the finnish landrace, Scobie said.

"Natural mutations have played an important role in New Zealand's farming history. Many years ago, a mutation in romney sheep produced the drysdale, which is a very hairy sheep with horns that became a significant breed, though numbers have declined," Scobie said.

Not all mutations become so useful or productive, but they are always very helpful in improving understanding of animals.

"If you think you have a lamb with an unusual coat take another look. Lustrous wool looks quite like mohair from an angora goat, with a shiny appearance that hair care companies would like to be able to reproduce and sell in a bottle."

Phone Dr Scobie at AgResearch or email info@agresearch.co.nz.

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- Waikato

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