Easy-care research flocks go for auction
A 13-year breeding project to develop low-maintenance sheep will come to a close when two research flocks are sold at the Tinwald saleyards on March 12.
The final strike of the auction hammer will put an end to the project led by AgResearch scientist Dr David Scobie into easy-care and wool shedding sheep.
Two flocks totalling about 300 sheep are now surplus to requirements at the research organisation's Winchmore Research Farm and face a dispersal sale.
The project began in 1997 when the cost of growing wool was expected to exceed the value of wool grown. Challenges were set to develop wool-less sheep and low-maintenance sheep.
A wiltshire flock was selected for decreased fleece weight over 11 years and an easy-care line created from composite sheep.
Scobie said it was sad to see the flocks go after a decade of fine tuning them, but the project had achieved its goals of developing low-cost, easy-care sheep.
"We have been breeding them up for long enough to where we achieved what we set out to do. It was time to get rid of them and move on to do something else. You look at the animals and where we came from and what we have achieved (and it's been satisfying).
Scobie said more research could have been done on the wiltshires if the gene pool of the small, closed flock had been increased.
The wiltshires had highly attuned sight and smell and were quiet compared with other breeds when lambs were drafted from a mob. Other traits observed with the easy-care sheep were their extreme range in temperament from tame to flighty. Further research on sheep temperament could have examined if quiet ewes provided more lambs weaned than other ewes. Nonetheless, the project was considered a success with effective selection allowing wiltshire lambs to shed all their wool by January and avoid shearing. Most of the hoggets had lost much of their fleece again last September and fleece weights were less than 300 grams.
The wiltshires weaned 118 per cent lambs per ewe mated at a weaning weight of 30.6 kg last year. Only one lamb was flystruck of 1984 lambs weaned over a decade at Winchmore.
Scobie said the aim of the project had been to look for cheaper ways to farm with low- maintenance and easy-care sheep.
Selected animals for the trial had a bare breech, head, legs, belly and a genetically short tail also bare of wool. The sheep with a bare breech were five times less likely to get flystrike and endured fewer dags. The short bare tail does not need docking and bare areas elsewhere made them easier to shear, reducing the cost of shearing through less wool handling. There is also no need to dag or crutch the animals.
Their composite background allowed them to wean 177 per cent lambs per ewe mated at a weaning weight of 30.7 kg last year even though reproduction gains were not part of their breeding.
Scobie will make a presentation on the project before the start of the auction at 1pm.
"There are breeders who have sheep similar to the low- maintenance easy care sheep, such as the avalon ultimate, the kelso snowline and also the bohepe, who will be interested in the genes offered by this flock."
He will pursue other projects looking at breeding to reduce fibre diameter for the New Zealand Merino Company and research shiny sheep with lustrous wool.
Lustrous wool suits felt and fabric making and Wellington company Stansborough has produced a lustrous range including textiles for the Lord of the Rings movie.