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
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
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
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
''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
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
With the research finished, the flocks were no longer needed
and they were auctioned.
- by Maureen Bishop