Buyers snap up Wiltshire trial progeny

Auctioneer Cam Bray, of PGG Wrightson, and his assistant  Michael Buchanan take the bids at the Agresearch Wiltshire sheep auction. Photo by Maureen Bishop
Auctioneer Cam Bray, of PGG Wrightson, and his assistant Michael Buchanan take the bids at the Agresearch Wiltshire sheep auction. Photo by Maureen Bishop

Buyers from throughout the country snapped up the progeny of a breeding project which produced low-maintenance sheep, when they were auctioned in Ashburton recently.

The auction was the final act of a 13-year AgResearch breeding project into easy-care and shedding sheep.

Buyers came from the Waikato to Southland and there was complete clearance of the 350 stock on offer.

Rams sold from $100-$650, ewe lambs from $110-$150 and ewes from $10-$260.

The research project was led by AgResearch scientist Dr David Scobie at the Winchmore Research Farm near Ashburton. In 1997, AgResearch predicted the cost of growing wool would exceed the value of the wool grown.

There were two things that could be done: breed sheep that cost less to run or give up on wool and breed wool-less sheep, Dr Scobie said.

The Wiltshire flock, one of the oldest breeds of sheep in the United Kingdom, was 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,'' Dr Scobie said.

The line selected for decreased fleece weight produced only 200g of wool at yearling shearing in 2013, and 90% of the lambs from this line had totally shed their fleece before weaning in January.

The lambs were shorn as part of the trial for wool follicle research but on a commercial farm, shearing would not be necessary.

The trial found in all age groups, the better Wiltshires were fed, the better they would shed. Single-born lambs would shed best of all.

Of the 1984 lambs weaned across a decade, only one lamb had ever been fly-struck.

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

''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,'' Dr Scobie said.

With a short tail there was no need to muster lambs and stress them with docking during a vital period of lamb growth.

During research into low-cost, easy-care sheep, it was found that ewes which grew less wool on breeches and bellies weaned more lambs. Lambs bare of wool in these regions were heavier at weaning. When lambs were not using protein and energy to grow wool, they could use it to gain weight and fight off parasites.

With the research finished, the flocks were no longer needed and they were auctioned.

- by Maureen Bishop