April 23, 2014

New Zealand agricultural history. No 26. Importing exotic sheep breeds

Impact of importations on New Zealand sheep industry
NZ Sheep Breeders Association (NZSBA) registrations
What happened to White Headed Mutton, White Headed Marsh?
What happened to the Oxford Down, Gotland Pelt, Awassi?

By Dr Clive Dalton

The impact of the exotic sheep importations
There was clearly a massive burst of enthusiasm in the first years after the exotic sheep importations to register the new breeds with the NZ Sheep Breeders Association (NZSBA), so that many purchasers of the sheep could become official ‘stud breeders’ with their purebreds as fast as possible.  There was clearly money to be made!

The 1990-2002 New Zealand National Sheep Breeders Association (NSBA)
The flock book over this period records the following details which show what happened to the breeds: 
  • 1990 NZSBA flock book records entries for Danish Texel, Finnish Landrace, Gotland Pelt, Oxford Down and White Headed Marsh.
  • 1991 breed societies for the Texel, Oxford Down and Finnish Landrace formed.
  • 1993.  Oxfore Down was renamed Oxford.
  • 1995.  11 in-lamb ewes and 4 rams registerd by Silverstream East Friesians.  There were 49 flocks in the 1997 flock book.
  •  2002.  Last remaining Gotland Pelt stud withdrew from NZSBA.
  • 2014 NSBA website.   Only Finnsheep, East Friesian, Texel, and Oxford breeds are listed.

What happened to the White Headed Mutton?
The Oldenburg or White Headed Mutton sheep imported by MAF in 1972 all went into a large hole on Mana, but while they were there, John Dobbie reckons from what he saw of them that they had nothing to contribute which was any better than the modern easy-care Romney.  The Muttons he said was on a par with the old-style Romney with poor lambing percentage and plenty of lambing problems. 

The White Headed Marsh
These are considered to be different to the ‘Mutton’, and there is one flock of White Headed Marsh sheep listed in the Rare Breeds Conservation Society of NZ.  It says they came from sheep which arrived in New Zealand in the 1980s (being imported from Denmark) and were released from quarantine in 1990.  These are the AE imported sheep.  Google both breeds and you get the same photo (above).

What happened to the Oxford Down?

After release from quarantine at Hopuhopu, the unsold animals went to the MAF Research Station at Tokanui near Te Awamutu.  Robin Hilson says he took some over, but couldn’t sell them, and because of their poor lambing rate, he said they were never a success and his were culled. 
There are five breeders listed with the NZSBA so a few must have survived. Clearly they have made zero impact in New Zealand, and even a small proportion has never been included in any composite breed. The breed's dark face was a major fault.  The photo (off the Internet) shows a typical ram all done up for the UK show ring.

What happened to the Gotland Pelt?

  One story is that most of them were sold to an Australian buyer soon after they cleared quarantine. The other is that a few were farmed for a short while on a property near Feilding, before being sold to a farmer in the Takaka area. Small numbers seemed to spread around the country before being bought by a farmer in the Southern Wairarapa who owned a mill in Petone that made cloth for Peter Jackson’s films.  But surprisingly there are 27 listed owners of Gotlands in the Rare Breeds Conservation Society of NZ in very small flocks 2014.  

What happened to the Awassi?
There is one flock listed in the Rare Breeds Conservation Society of NZ. The great live sheep export industry to the Middle East, which was a major target for the breed, never really got going because of animal welfare issues both on the journey and at their destination.  But this trade could develop again.

Awassi ewes at Flock House.  
Photo: Dr Deric Charlton

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