Kiwis wary of Aussie claim to Big Ben's world sheep fleece record

The sheep will be checked by vets, but initial indications were it came through the process relatively well.
RSPCA

The sheep will be checked by vets, but initial indications were it came through the process relatively well.

Australian claims that they have snatched the world sheep fleece record are being treated with some scepticism in New Zealand.

Shearer Ian Elkin who has been performing a potentially life-saving shearing operation to save a very woolly sheep found near Canberra believes he has set a new record.

The errant sheep who appeared wearing a mammoth fleece on Wednesday began undergoing a risky shearing operation from 9am Thursday (11am NZT) in the hopes of saving its life.

Elkin took about 45 minutes to finish the first pass and estimated that the fleece weighed about 42.5kg.

Early guesses had put the fleece at several years' growth, with it predicted to weigh around 20 kilograms. That would have put it well short of New Zealand's world record holder, Big Ben, who dethroned Shrek.

Big Ben, from Omahau Hill Station in South Canterbury, had his 28.9 kilogram fleece officially recognised by Guinness World Records in September 2014. Shrek's fleece had weighed 27kg.

Elkin said he "smashed Shrek's record of 27kg no worries".

"I don't think he's been shorn before, and I think he's five or six years old," he told local radio.

"I wouldn't say it is high quality, but you wouldn't expect it to be after so long in the bush."

He said he had to do it in two layers, and he took about 45 minutes to finish the first pass. The sheep will be checked by vets, but initial indications were it came through the process relatively well.

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Omahau Hill station farmer Mike Lindsay joked the estimate could be a repeat of the 1981 underarm bowling incident, but did admit "they have got some bloody big sheep over there".

The station's number three shepherd, Bridget Newlands, said she was wary of relying on Elkin's initial estimate.

"An estimate isn't as good as a world record."

Big Ben who holds the world record for the heaviest sheep fleece. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

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She said Lindsay went through "a huge palaver" to secure the world record, receiving final confirmation of Big Ben's record months after a charity shearing event.

Newlands said Big Ben's fleece, which Lindsay had earmarked as a fundraiser for Twizel's new medical centre, remained unsold.

High Country Medical Trust chairman Simon Williamson said the building had nearly all its exterior cladding on, but the trust remained about $120,000 short of its total $1.8 million funding target.

Williamson, who is also a farmer, said he found the new Australian claim "hard to believe" but could not rule out the possibility of a new record.

The Australian sheep was found by a member of the public near Mulligan's Flat and rescued by a team of five from the local RSPCA and was being shorn by a shearer, his son and a helper, according to reports.

The team put out an urgent call for a shearer.

Apparently the RSPCA even had media requests from Polish news about the woolly animal.

Elkin has shorn before royalty at the Royal Sydney Show.

The sheep had not been near humans for several years at least, by some estimates. And RSPCA ACT boss Tammy Ven Dange had warned the process of shearing could lead to shock and death.

However, she said it needed to be shorn as soon as possible as Merinos were bred for the specific purpose of growing wool, and leaving it as it was would be cruel. The sheep was sedated to give it the best possible chance of survival.

"There could be infections, flystrike, [the coat] could prevent him from going to the bathroom. There could be a really nasty thing under that coat but we won't know that until we get there," she said.

But, she said, the sheep had not necessarily been neglected by its owner.

"It happens a lot apparently, when they're trying to herd you can have a bunch of sheep and one gets lost.

"Certainly, the poor guy has been on his own for while."

While there had been calls to name the Canberra sheep, Ven Dange cautioned the public on Wednesday against becoming attached.

"Just be aware that this fellow might not survive, we just don't know yet, so if we name it now there might be some heartbreak."

-Stuff.co.nz and Fairfax Australia

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