Low Cost Easy Care sheep released from research flocks

The final act of two AgResearch sheep breeding projects selecting low-maintenance sheep took place at the Tinwald General Saleyards on Wednesday 12 March 2014.

​The research projects led by AgResearch scientist Dr David Scobie into easy-care and shedding sheep had finished.  As the two flocks, totaling approximately 300 sheep, were surplus to requirements on the Winchmore Research Farm, AgResearch held a dispersal sale.

In 1997, AgResearch predicted that the cost of growing wool would exceed the value of the wool grown in what was then the foreseeable future.

“We had two challenges,” says Dr Scobie.

“To develop a wool-less sheep and also to develop a low maintenance sheep.”

The Wiltshire flock was selected for decreased fleece weight for a period of 11 years.

“Selection was so effective that the Wiltshire lambs did not need shearing as they had shed all their wool by January,” says Dr Scobie.

“The Wiltshire hoggets had lost much of their fleece again by September 2013 and fleece weights were less than 300 grams. If it was not a research project, you would not shear them at all and their winter coat would all moult by mid-summer.”

They weaned 118% lambs per ewe mated at a weaning weight of 30.6 kg in 2013.  Only one lamb has ever been flystruck of 1,984 weaned across a decade at Winchmore.

“In another initiative we were looking for cheaper ways to farm with our low maintenance Easy Care sheep,” says Dr Scobie.

The animals in this trial were selected to have a bare breech, head, legs, belly and a genetically short tail also bare of wool.

“The bare breech dramatically reduces the accumulation of dags,” says Dr Scobie.

“In 2007 and 2008 Beef + Lamb New Zealand funded an investigation to see if these traits were present in ram breeding flocks across the country.  During that investigation we found that sheep with a bare breech were five times less likely to get flystrike.

“The short bare tail does not need docking and the bare head, legs, belly and breech make them easier to shear, reducing the cost of shearing through decreased wool handling. There is no need to dag or crutch these animals.”

They weaned 177% per ewe mated at a weaning weight of 30.7 kg in 2013.

“Any breeder looking to reduce work-hours on the farm and the flystrike risk of their sheep should look to add these genetics to their flock,” says Dr Scobie.

“Of course it is with some sadness that we had to disperse a research flock that we created from the drawing board to the field and fine-tuned over more than a decade. We are proud to have been able to see this through and into industry, but now we have to get on with something new.”