Wiltshire sheep have recently come under the spotlight as the labour required and shearing costs associated with the more traditional breeds start to outweigh a dwindling wool cheque for crossbred wool.
The Wiltshire animals have a relatively young history in New Zealand compared to some sheep breeds but it is a breed that has been nurtured for at least 40 years.
For some the idea of farming ewes that shed or, at the very least, do not grow wool over their belly and crutch is a too good a chance to pass up and therein lie the bones of an increase in interest for Wiltshires.
Ironically, their growth in popularity started at small block level but has spread to larger operations over the years. Recent ewe fairs have emphasised that increase in popularity.
Grant and Sandra McMillan from Ongarue were early adopters of Wiltshires.
They have been breeding them for 15 years and their motto “no wool, no worries” captures the essence of the breed and their 100% self-shedding flock on their 365-hectare King Country farm.
Their desire for a less labour-intensive farming operation led them down the Wiltshire path previously occupied by a Coopworth flock and over the years they have fine-tuned the breed to their own style of Wiltshire.
The McMillans run 1700 breeding ewes and 750 ewe lambs with 300 ram lambs also held over each year.
It has taken the last seven years of selective breeding, with the main focus on shedding attributes but also feet and facial eczema tolerance, to produce progeny that are now 100% shedders.
Grant McMillan says they are an interesting breed to observe.
“While our flock are full shedders, the rate at which that occurs is variable due to the season.
“Feeding seems to accelerate it but lactating suppresses it. Lambing occurs here from August 1 and the ewes generally get a wool break in September and by October-November most are fully shed.
“The lambs start in November of their first year of birth.”
Common concerns voiced about the Wiltshire breed are that the shed wool leaves messy paddocks and they tend to have feet issues.
McMillan quickly puts those to rest.
“Crossbred ewes grow longer wool and therefore shed longer lengths. Pure Wiltshires grow up to a maximum of only 30-40mm before they shed it, which is barely noticeable in the paddock if it sticks around.”
They have also bred out any feet issues.
For the past two years the McMillans have held their own ram and ewe fairs at the Te Kuiti sale yards in conjunction with PGG Wrightson. They are proving to be a popular stop on the calendar for many.
This year earlier results for Wiltshire ewes have been a talking point with $340-$350 achieved for two-tooths at a special sale at Stortford Lodge while ewe lambs at the Glenbrae on-farm sale at Porangahau sold for $220-$292.
The third annual McMillan Shedding Sheep Sale was held on Thursday and McMillan admitted he was more concerned about this sale than the first one they held three years ago, given the market environment.
But that worry proved unfounded with strong buying support from loyal local buyers as well as others from Wairoa, Taranaki and Tuakau.
In all, 287 two-tooth ewes sold to $350 and averaged $314 while the top ewe lambs in a 308-head offering sold up to $267 and averaged $213. Twelve two-tooth rams sold up to $800 and averaged $604 while 29 ram lambs reached $675 and averaged $604.
The sale followed a two-tooth ram fair in November where the top rams reached $3000 and averaged $1704.