The Rise and Rise of Shedding Sheep

October 18, 2021

With ram sales in full swing this past month, Milne Feeds’ Sheep Specialist, Brett Blanchett, provides his insights into the growing trend towards the self-shedding sheep breeds.

‘One high profile breeder of shedding sheep recently asked me ‘why do we want wool on a meat sheep anyway?’.  He went on to say that most of the day-to-day work in sheep is dealing with the removal of wool or managing the ‘cling-ons’ of wool such as lice, dags or flies’, Brett said.

Whether you are a shedding sheep convert, or prefer the more dual-purpose Merino types, no one can miss the shedding-sheep storm that is building at present.  Whilst all types of sheep genetics have been sought after this selling season, the sales of shedding-sheep breeds have possibly been more pronounced.

The origins of the self-shedding sheep go back to the South African Dorper, which features in most shedding breed genetics.  The breed was developed by crossing a Dorset Horn with a Blackhead Persian around the 1930s – hence the name ‘Dorper’. The Van Rooy breed was thought to have contributed to forming the White Dorper.

The Australian breeds of shedding sheep that are most common around the traps these days are the Ultra White, Australian White, SheepMaster, Kojak, and now Nudies, to name a few.  All have been improved through the clever injections of breeding genetics that have increased fertility, mothering ability and milk, and, more importantly, developed early maturing, lean and high yielding carcasses.

In the breeding industry, the real ‘gamechangers’ are using the high fecundity shedding breeds to mate ewe lambs, as well as to obtain 3 or more lambings in two years; the rationale being that, if we have 135% lamb survival 3 times in 2 years, the return is 200% per annum. This model isn’t for everyone, as it requires the correct farming country and careful livestock management, but the numbers stack up.

From a nutritional point of view, the hardy self-shedding breeds are less selective grazers that tend to walk less during grazing and therefore burn less energy.  They are very adaptable, and thrive in harsh conditions, whilst being good energy converters.  With no wool to split key nutrients (energy and protein) towards, they direct more nutrients into growth of lean tissue/muscle and body condition.  Moreover, this also tends to result in a higher muscle percentage than standard wool breeds and muscle cells have a higher demand for nutrients to sustain their existence (basically muscle cells are costly to keep & maintain!). This typically means they have a higher protein requirement, together with a higher basal metabolic rate.  Brett says that Milne Feeds EasyOne® is ideal for self-shedding breeds, as it has a regulated energy level, and makes use of Hyfibe® technology to achieve the correct balance between protein, energy and fibre for these breeds.  The pellet is also balanced with minerals and vitamins, such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, selenium and vitamin E, which are key nutrients for breeding and growing animals.

With the robust lamb prices at present, combined with a wool price that has eased from a couple of years back and staffing issues to tackle the work in wool, it’s no wonder that shedding sheep are front and centre.

It is ironic that they are “shedding”, and yet they won’t be “shedded” in their lives. Pun intended.

Having said all that, let’s not forget the role that the ever-reliable Merino plays in Western Australia.