January 10, 2009

Sheep Farm Husbandry - breeds and breeding

By Dr Clive Dalton

Which breed to farm?
There is a wide choice of breeds available in New Zealand. Some of these are the ancestors of a wide range of breeds that came from Britain and Australia in the 1860s and early 1900s, and some have been developed in New Zealand from merging (crossing) other breeds.

Others were imported by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries for research and testing in the 1970s and were released eventually to commercial farmers, while private companies imported others.

Choice of breed can be based on many things such as availability and predicted economic return from meat, wool or milk. But personal fancy is also taken into consideration as it’s very important to keep a breed that you like, whether it’s a commercial or a hobby enterprise. Here’s a list of breeds classified by their function and where they came from:

Meat breeds
  • Dorset Down - (Britain)
  • South Dorset Down - (NZ from Southdown and Dorset Down)
  • Polled Dorset - (Britain)
  • Dorset Horn - (Britain)
  • Suffolk - (British)
  • Shropshire - (Britain)
  • Hampshire - (Britain)
  • South Dorset - (NZ from Southdown and Dorset)
  • Southdown - (Britain)
  • South Suffolk - (NZ from Southdown and Suffolk)
  • South Hampshire - (NZ from Southdown and Hampshire)
  • Ryeland - (Britain)
  • Texel - (Holland)
  • Oxford Down - (Britain)
  • Wiltshire - (Britain)
  • Dorper - (South Africa)
  • Awassi Fat Tailed - (Middle East)
Wool breeds
  • Merino (fine wool) – (Spain via Australia)
  • Boroola merino (fine wool) – (Australia)
  • Polwarth (fine wool) – (Australia)
  • Drysdale (coarse wool) – (New Zealand)
  • Tukidale (coarse wool) – (New Zealand)
  • Black and Coloured (both fine and coarse coloured wool) – (New Zealand)
Woolless breeds
  • Wiltshire
  • Dorper

Dual purpose (meat and wool) breeds

  • Romney- (Britain)
  • Coopworth – (NZ from Border Leicester x Romney)
  • Perendale – (NZ from Cheviot x Romney)
  • Cheviot – (Britain)
  • Corriedale (NZ from Lincoln or Leicester x Merino)
  • Border Leicester - (Britain)
  • Borderdale – (NZ from Border Leicester x Merino)
  • English Leicester – (Britain)
  • Lincoln – (Britain)
  • Finnish Landrace or Finnsheep – (Finland)
  • East Friesian – (Holland)
  • White Headed Marsh - (Germany)

Milking breeds
  • East Friesian – (Holland)

Pelt breeds
  • Gotland pelt – (Norway)
  • Karakul – (Central Russia)
Rare breeds
  • Campbell Island sheep (NZ Campbell Island)
  • Raglan Romney – (NZ Raglan)
  • Hokonui sheep – (NZ Hokonui, Southland)
  • Fiordland sheep – (NZ Fiordland)
  • Stewart Island sheep – (NZ Stewart Island)
For more contacts for Breed Societies and Breed Associations – see NZ Contacts in Agriculture (Website www.contacts.co.nz. Email: office@contacts.co.nz).

How do breeds compare?
This is a difficult question to answer, as when breeds have been compared in official independent trials, there have always been problems. One of my sheep breed comparison trials with six New Zealand breeds went for 11 years, and I was not on many stud breeders’ Christmas card list!

Supporters of each breed were rarely happy with the way trials were run, and were never happy if the results came out negative for their breed. The major concerns were first trying to get stock that truly represented each breed, and then running them in an environment and managing them so that everyone was happy. This was rarely if ever achieved. In today’s research environment breed comparison are part of history and it’s maybe a good thing.

When you look at information provided by breed organisations, you could easily conclude that all breeds were perfect. We read that each breed has high fertility, high growth rates, good wool, and good carcass conformation with low fat content. The ewes are also good mothers, have great longevity and are not prone to diseases! If all this was true, why do we need so many breeds? The answer is not technical –it’s more about personal fancy – and fortunately there’s no law against keeping breeds that you like the look of.

The table below gives some old (if not ancient data), and is probably only useful for the wool traits or staple length and fibre diameter details which will not have changed much over time. But you could probably add 10kg to the live weights of today’s sheep, much to shearers’ concerns about having to haul all this extra weight over the shearing board.

Today’s better feeding regimes have also increased fleece weights by 0.25 –0.5kg. Lambing percentage used to be included in these tables but they are so dependent on feeding levels and live weight that presenting average figures for today’s breeds is of little value.

Conclusion: Apart from the specialist wool breeds, consider all the meat breeds and all the dual-purpose breeds to be so similar that farming them will produce similar financial returns. You can get good performance out of any breed with good management.

Why bother with wool?
Over recent years. with the very low returns from wool, interest in sheep that either grow little or no wool, or shed what they do grow, has come and gone. Farmers on small blocks are most keen to have woolless sheep.

Wiltshire ewe showing shedding genes

Breed photos
Breed societies can get very upset when they see photos of their breed in print that they don't like - for a wide range of reasons. It's not an easy job to present one photo to show all the characteristics of the breed - especially to please a committee.

The following are photos I have taken over the years and are certainly not blessed by any Breed Association of Society. Contact the appropriate breed organisation for an approved photo.

New Zealand Romney

Coopworth mixed-age ewes

Perendale ewe hoggets

Drysdale rams

Corriedale rams

Cheviot mixed-age ewes

Merino ram

Suffolk mixed-age ewes

Black and Coloured mixed-age ewes

Disclaimer This material is provided in good faith for information purposes only, and the author does not accept any liability to any person for actions taken as a result of the information or advice (or the use of such information or advice) provided in these pages.

No comments:

Post a Comment