August 25, 2010

New Zealand Sheep Breeds - the Carpetmaster


Introduction by Dr Clive Dalton

The 1970s were exciting times for animal breeders in New Zealand. The sheep stud industry (mainly Romney) was coming under intense pressure from so-called new breeds’ developed from crossbreeding which the traditional stud industry saw as ‘mongrelising’!

The Coopworth was bred at Lincoln University from the Border Leicester cross Romney, and the Perendale was bred at Massey University from the Cheviot cross Romney. Both of these breeds – developed in the 1950s – were held in some disdain by the conservative traditionalist elements in breed societies. But both had a basic degree of credibility as a consequence of having been developed by animal scientists of high standing - Professor Ian? Coop of Lincoln Agricultural College (later Lincoln University) and Professor Geoffry Peren of Massey Agricultural College (later to become Massey University).

The stud industry was also being shot at by scientists (me included) for their traditional ‘colonial’ thinking, and lack of application of best scientific practice - particularly population genetics developed by Professor Al Rae at Massey and his students, who were working hard employed as farmers and Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries advisers in the industry which was expanding at that time.

The main drive was to improve fertility in the national ewe flock, and the greatest ‘mover and shaker’ in this was the development of ‘Group Breeding’ Schemes where farmers expanded their genetic horizons by cooperatively screening their large populations of commercial flocks for ewes that had top all-round merit. These identified ‘elite’ ewes were relocated to a jointly owned ‘Central Flock’ from which intensely selected rams were returned to contributing breeders.

At the same time the New Zealand carpet wool industry was thriving, with high demand for carpet wools, which were mainly the coarser end of the Romney clip. Scottish Blackface wool was imported at that time to go into carpet blends, and this had the big disadvantage of black fibres, as well as the costs of importation.

Dr FW Dry (Daddy) was still going strong at this time, having returned from his residency at Leeds University, using my old office when I left to come to New Zealand in 1968. It was inevitable that somebody remembered Daddy's hairy sheep and the N gene he identified in the 19330s.

Daddy’s hairy sheep had been kicked out of Massey and were grazing friends’ lawns in Palmerston North, as by this time they were seen by Peren as an embarrassment when emphasis in his Perendale work was to get rid of hair!

But the carpet company United Empire Box (UEB) were smart enough to grab any remaining sheep and claim ownership of the N gene to meet the expanding carpet fibre market. The N gene sheep (later to be called Drysdales after Daddy) were perfect for the job – especially as they had no coloured fibres – and so were more suited to dying to plain pastel shades for the carpets which were then all the rage.

So all this hype got farmers throughout the land looking for ‘hairy genes’ and Daddy was in his element helping anyone who came up with a ‘funny hairy lamb’.

The Cumberlands (Ken and son Garth) worked up the K gene into a marketable sheep and Garth reports the story is below.

Photo shows Dr Dry inspecting a ram. South Auckland Coopworth breeder Noel Schofield is holding the lamb and MAF Farm Advisor Colin Southey who arranged much of this work for Dry looks on.

The Cumberlands (Ken and his son Garth) worked up the K gene into a marketable sheep and Garth’s story is below.

The Carpetmaster Story
By Garth Cumberland

In the early 70s brochure I produced a brochure about ‘Carpetmaster’ sheep, but unfortunately it didn't have much of the detail I hoped it might. It seems we didn't want to give too many secrets away in those days, which seems ridiculous now! The story from memory goes something like this.

As a stroppy student at Massey University I emerged from the institution, somewhat incensed by the lack of application of science in the stud sheep breeding world. Encouraged, I remember, by the staff of that veritable 'ideas factory' known as Whatawhata Hill Country Research Station, I first leveled a torpedo at the Perendale Sheep Society at its AGM in Hamilton around1968.

I don't believe the Society understood one word of what I said; but the outcome was my meeting up with the likes of David Carter (of Perendale fame), Neil McHardy, John Stovell and Colin Chamberlin.

The consequence was the formation of the Perendale Genetic Development (PGD) Breeding Group - which was one a number of breeding groups at the time stimulated by the philosophy of Professor Al Rae at Massey University.

The concept was for commercial breeders to contribute their top performing ewes to a central flock, and in return they received highly selected rams to improve their own flock. PGD was around for probably two decades.

About the start of PGD, a thorn developed in my side over a carpet company called ‘United Empire Box (UEB) having an iron grip on the Drysdale breed. I didn’t like their tight control of the breed’s genetics and that you could only get rams from the company who took all the breed’s wool.

Then I started to notice the rare but regular appearance of hairy sheep occurring in both my own recorded Perendale flock as well as in the PGD Central Flock.

One ram in particular had a very powerful and strongly expressed hairy gene and we labeled it 'K' - it's in the picture below nearest the camera.

That's were Daddy Dry came in: he declared the K fleeces of every one of our heterozygotes carrying the K-gene, were equally as good as the best homozygotes carrying the Drysdale gene labeled N.

I was the only PGD member interested in 'salvaging' from the knacker and collecting together the Perendales that exhibited halo hair and as a consequence I acquired a high fertility flock of ewes and one interesting ram amongst other rag-tags.

The 'Carpetmaster' name was coined. And heterozygote ram production was initiated. This was early 70s and in the brochure we emphasised on "freely available" rams.

Now at that time, PGD initiated some work defining wool characteristics which was overseen variously by Lance Wiggins of the NZ Wool Board, Dr Roland Sumner at the Whatawhat Hill Country Research Station, and Dr Garth Carnaby at the Wool Research Organisation (WRO).

They showed that the unique helical (spiral) crimp of the Perendale breed imposed commercially significant 'bulk' attributes to yarns and hence to carpets and garments made from the yarns. Pure Perendale wool had better cover in carpets (weight for weight) and insulation properties in garments.

The combined attributes of fleeces containing a hair component PLUS the helical crimp in non-hairy fibres in Perendales carrying the K gene seemed like a winner. At least it did for a year or so until WRO showed that 100% high-bulk Perendale, made better carpets than any blend containing Drysdale, Carpetmaster or Tukidale.

In short, the Perendale helical crimp was commercially more important than hair of the specialist carpet breeds - including Carpetmasters. I have always assumed that the helical crimp characteristic comes from Perendale's cheviot ancestry.

Another ram in attached photo was purchased from a breeder in Te Puke who thought it might be useful and we labeled its gene 'B'. However it turned out to be no better than the N gene, and although there was no declared or known genetic connection, we assumed it probably had the same Drysdale N gene. It was taken no further.

We exported more Carpetmaster(K)s to Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia in early 1970s than we sold in NZ. A Google search of 'Carpetmaster Sheep in Australia' seems to indicate the survival of the breed along with Drysdales, Tukidales and Elliotdales, across the Ditch.


In the 1970s I chose to wind-down my effort into Carpetmaster and instead pursued selection for 'bulk' in Perendales, along with the processing of high bulk wools with David Carter and others ex PGD members.

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