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Easy care sheep

Easy care sheep, developed by AgResearch, have been selectively bred to be more productive and less labour-intensive for farmers. This focus story reveals more about these sheep and why they were developed.

Easy care sheep traits

Researchers have selected traits they deem to make sheep easier and cheaper to farm and combined these to create an easy care sheep. Easy care sheep have less wool in key places such as the backside, belly, head and legs. They also have a short tail.

Less wool reduces costs

Less wool in these key places on a sheep reduces farming costs and improves returns. Some of the easy care traits reduce the accumulation of dags – a build up of faeces. This makes sheep less susceptible to flystrike – attack by blowflies that lay maggots in the sheep’s fleece, eventually causing skin damage. It also makes sheep quicker and easier to shear and reduces the need for procedures like dagging, crutching and treating flystrike, which saves farmers time and money.

Get information sheet: Easy care sheep traits

Falling wool prices spark research idea

Demand for wool began to fall in the 1970s because of competition from an expanding synthetic fibre market and increasing production costs. Farmers were protected from the full impact of this for a while by government subsidies. However, when the subsidies were removed and prices remained low, farmers and scientists began to consider breeds of sheep that may be more cost-effective to farm. The traditional idea of a sheep producing as much wool as possible began to change.

This led Dr David Scobie and his team at AgResearch to begin a research project to selectively breed a sheep with particular traits that would make it easier and cheaper to farm – an easy care sheep.

Get information sheet: The need for easy care sheep

Selective breeding creates easy care sheep

Selective breeding is the method chosen by scientists to develop the easy care sheep. It’s an ancient technique, used by farmers to improve their livestock since the early domestication of animals and well before the discovery of DNA.

Selective breeding involves selecting traits you want and mating animals with those traits together to produce more of the traits in the progeny.

Measuring heritability

Genetics and environmental factors both contribute to the heritability of different traits to different degrees. Through research, scientists have been able to measure how heritable the different traits are and provide guidelines for farmers.

Get information sheet: Breeding easy care sheep

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