Designer sheep boom

IMOGEN NEALE
Last updated 10:01 15/01/2012
Awassi lambs
JOHN BISSET/Fairfax NZ
GOAT-LIKE: Awassi lambs don't come cheap.

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Brown black with the odd splash of white, a pen of 10 dorper-cross lambs stand out from the other 5500 white-bodied sheep at the annual Tuakau lamb fair.

A woman wearing heels, a shirt and jeans leans on the rail, eyeing them up. The main selling point is that they're small, cute and a little bit different.

Another woman pauses at her elbow and, with a wink, leans in and says, "They'd perfectly match your post and rail fences." Sold.

Lifestyle block owners looking for something a bit different are driving a trend in designer sheep.

Type key words such as "organic", "low maintenance", and "designer" into Trade Me to reveal anything from Middle Eastern sheep that can be milked, to lambs from Pitt Island in the Chathams.

One Arapawa "designer" lamb is promoted as being intelligent, less prone to footrot and fly-strike. "Ideal for lifestyle block owners. As they mature, the sun bleaches and felts the surface of their fleece. When shorn, they reveal their original colouring," the listing read.

Bill Rottier lives on the outskirts of Hamilton and owns an ever-growing herd of Pitt Island sheep.

The hardy animals that shed their own wool and have "weird colourings" would be perfect for a lifestyle block he said.

"They're quite impressive. Plenty of people have said `turn them into sausages' but I think they deserve more than that."

Rottier was told by a local shearer to list any excess stock on the internet because "lifestyle-blockers" would love them for their point of difference.

Raglan sheep breeder Cathy Crossland has a herd of around 20 awassi sheep born from flushed embryos that were fertilised in Australia then sent back to New Zealand.

The randomly coloured, long-earred lambs that look like kid goats don't come cheap – prices range from $600 to $2000.

Crossland said they have beautiful wool but, like a lot of designer sheep, aren't tailor-made for New Zealand conditions. "Their feet aren't made for Waikato weather – they tend to get the equivalent of athlete's foot."

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- Sunday Star Times

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