raven ranson wrote:Yes, breeding makes a huge difference.
Ben Waimata wrote: This included getting rid of summer wool.
Can you tell me more about this?
I'm 5th generation sheep farmer (ie multi generational peasant), my father had bred up a line of good NZ Romney for the old school wool market. NZ Romney had been developed from the original UK Romney for NZ conditions, and aimed for good meat/wool sheep. So 20 years ago or so I had a good long look at the various farm economic analysis systems being used and realised they didn't fit my requirements which included environmental sustainability, ethical land use, and lifestyle as well as the standard total economic outcomes. Then first thing I noticed is that per kg of grass eaten, the cattle were returning about 3x the profit, so dropping the sheep numbers from the 2000 we had then was my first move. So looking at sheep from an ethic/environmental viewpoint I made the following observations;
#sheep were developing health issues with internal parasites and farmers were coming to depend on constant animal health product interventions
#sheep had health issues related to flystrike problems in summer, particularly with a small green Australian fly that arrived in the 1980's.
#sheep are hard on pastures as they selectively graze the plants they like to extinction and only eat what they don't like if forced to.
#sheep are hard on the soil as they will happily graze desired plants to the ground, opening the soil up to erosion, and allowing pasture weeds in (thistle etc).
#Sheep are hard to maintain as they require expensive fencing to keep them were we want them.
#sheep can be hard on the microclimate as they have the ability to reduce all pasture to near zero covers, leading to shallow rooting depth, reduced rhizosphere soil interactions, and reduced pasture drought tolerance. Cattle can be hard on soil in the wet with pugging, but they leave a much higher residual cover which is better for soil health.
Economically the market for sheep meat was suppressed, and for wool was very poor. I sat down and calculated all the costs involved in producing wool as a byproduct of the meat industry, and worked out that producing wool cost me $15/sheep/year, excluding
labour costs. This was worked out by studying the amount of energy required to grow wool versus meat, and all the wool-related costs such as dagging, flystrike etc.
So I got to the point where I realised there was very little economic incentive to farm sheep (at least on a small farm like this), however they are kind of nice to have around, and my Dad spent a lifetime working with them and would have hated to see them all go, so the answer was to breed the sheep I wanted.
We already had a flock that had been bred for good feet, and foot issues were almost non-existent. The first thing was to breed out any sick animal, anything sick got treated then sold. Getting the wool away has taken a long time, and mostly achieved by crossing back and forth to Wiltshire genetics, with a small amount of Dorper as well. Our sheep are now smaller than most of my neighbours, but still weigh in much heavier than they look. They are born with wool in winter, but as it warms up the wool falls off naturally, then regrows in winter. In summer the animals have a fine layer of hair similar to goat hair, but strangely the wool is still good. In full fleece they still have bald heads, necks, bellies, legs and crutch area.
These sheep are a much better climatic fit for our maritime temperate climate, it's warm enough that full wool sheep suffer severely in summer while ours are fine, but our winters are mild enough that these half-naked sheep with wooly backs are always warm enough.
This is an example, our 'pet' orphan lamb for this season, picture taken late winter. She has never been shorn, all her fleece is nearly shed for the season in this image, just a tuft of wool left on her back.