Introduction to a comprehensive information source on sheep husbandry.
By Dr Clive Dalton
People started to domesticate sheep 10,000–12,000 years ago to produce an animal that was more docile and more flexible than its wild ancestors of the time. Sheep spread across many continents and proved to be very adaptable to a wide range of environments from cold continents to dry deserts and to the hot humid tropics. They have done a great job and have provided a diverse range of products including meat, wool, skins, milk, fat and offal. They were also used as grazing machines to control herbage and weeds. They are still doing all these jobs.
World sheep populations have been decreasing for a number of reasons - the main ones being that consumption of sheep meat is limited to only a few countries in the world, and the demand for wool is at rock bottom. Also in some countries, conservationists have stopped or controlled the indiscriminate killing of sheep predators such as the coyote in North American and the dingo in Australia.
Sheep in New Zealand
Sheep have been the backbone of New Zealand’s economy since their introduction in 1834 where in these early days they acted as machines to tread pasture seeds and their dung into the ash left after the bush was burned. They converted pastures into meat and wool to feed and clothe the pioneers, and then after refrigeration in 1882, they were the basis of a massive export trade. New Zealand sheep are still doing this, but in greatly reduced numbers.
Sheep farmers around the world have faced some massive downturns in the last 50 years brought about by consumers’ move to eat chicken and pork instead of red meat, and the incredible advances synthetic fibres made in the textile market. So whatever the size of your sheep enterprise, they are now really worth taking care of, and this information is directed to this end.
The information contained in the large scale set of blog posts will help anyone needing basic facts on what’s involved in starting a sheep enterprise (large or small), or to trouble-shoot one they have already, to get more profit and job satisfaction from it.
The information is drawn from several books, a number of authors and decades of experience in the NZ sheep industry. Thanks to all that have contributed.