Wind-up for the Woolless Wiltshires of Winchmore

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

The final act of a 13 year-long AgResearch sheep breeding project designing low-maintenance sheep will take place at the Tinwald General Saleyards on Wednesday 12 March.

​The research project led by AgResearch scientist Dr David Scobie into easy-care and shedding sheep has finished.  As the two flocks, totalling approximately 300 sheep, are now surplus to requirements on the Winchmore Research Farm, AgResearch is holding 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 a 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 were selected for decreased fleece weight for a period of 11 years.

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

“This year 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.

“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 also no need to dag or crutch these animals.”

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

AgResearch will be offering the trial sheep for sale at a dispersal auction to be held on the Tinwald General Saleyards at 1pm on Wednesday 12 March. Viewing starts at 11am.

Dr Scobie will also be making a presentation on learnings from the project prior to the start of the auction.

“There are breeders who have sheep similar to the low maintenance Easy Care sheep, such as the Avalon Ultimate, the Kelso Snowline and also the Bo hepe, who will be interested in the genes offered by this flock,” says Dr Scobie.

“Any breeder looking to reduce work-hours on the farm and the flystrike risk of their sheep should be at this sale.

“Of course it is with some sadness that we have 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.”

Farmers interested in attending or finding out details on the individual animals for sale should contact Maryanne van der Werf by phoning 03 3218671 or emailing Maryanne.VanDerWerf@agresearch.co.nz