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Self-shedding sheep touted as answer

What began as a potential solution to a significant problem is now showing promising results for sheep farmers in Wairarapa and New Zealand.
New data from Massey Univerity’s Wairarapa research farm showed that self-shedding sheep might prevent the need for unprofitable shearing.
Researchers presented their data at a recent field day at Riverside Farm in Mikimiki, north of Masterton.
About 40 farmers attended from Wairarapa, Manawatu, and Hawke’s Bay to hear the data about the innovation and potential for increased profit margins.
Selling wool has been an integral part of New Zealand farming for over a century, but necessity is the mother of invention.
Low wool prices and high lamb prices have made traditional sheep farming less viable, creating the need for new solutions.
Wool prices and global demand have declined significantly in recent decades, with wool now accounting for less than 2 per cent of the worldwide fibre market.
Massey University’s modelling suggests coarse wool prices would need to exceed $4.15 per kg for farmers to break even on shearing costs; the price is currently between $2 and $3 per kg.
Their modelling also suggests a self-shedding flock, bred only for meat, would be more profitable in the long term.
Farmers still need to shear woolly sheep for animal welfare, even when not profitable.
Wiltshire sheep provide a potential solution to that problem because they have very thin coats, which they naturally shed in the spring, eliminating the need for annual shearing.
Massey’s project is transitioning a flock from classic Romney sheep to self-shedding Wiltshire sheep.
The research project started in March 2020 with 400 Romney ewes bred to self-shedding Wiltshire rams and a comparable group of ewes bred to Romney rams.
Crossbreeding will continue until 2025, with each subsequent generation requiring less and less shearing until the flock is fully self-shedding.
So far, data has found that Wiltshire Romney crossbreeds have maintained the same meat and weight quality as Romeny sheep across numerous key performance indicators.
The finer wool of Wiltshire sheep also indicates fewer dags and less common flystrike.
Massey researcher Steve Moriss said he would be happy to farm them and had 70 interested farmers regularly emailing him about the project.
One goal of the research is to measure how long it would take after crossbreeding began until farmers could stop shearing and docking their sheep.
Wiltshire sheep are uncommon in New Zealand, usually kept as a hobby breed.
They account for just two per cent of the national sheep population and, until now, have not been widely researched in New Zealand.

Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age who regularly writes about education. He is originally from Wellington and is interested in environmental issues and public transport.

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