The ‘self-shear­ing’ sheep that can cope with hot sum­mers

Country Smallholding - - On Course -

WHETHER the long hot sum­mer of 2018 goes down as a one-off heat­wave or whether it is re­vealed to be part of a trend of hot­ter sum­mers driven by cli­mate change, there is no doubt that for shep­herds the need to keep flocks shorn and cool has been more im­por­tant than ever this year, writes Paul McAvoy of the Wilt­shire Horn Sheep So­ci­ety. If you are for­tu­nate enough to keep one of the self-shed­ding breeds, you do have an in built ad­van­tage, of course. There has been no anx­ious wait for the shearer to fit in a few sheep, nor has there been any set­ting-to for the hard graft of DIY shear­ing, with all the sweat and toil that in­volves.

The tra­di­tional self-shed­ding breed in Eng­land is the Wilt­shire Horn sheep and those of us who keep them have grown very used to vis­i­tors lean­ing on the gate and ask­ing “When did you get them sheared then?” (I even had a vet ask me that ques­tion one De­cem­ber). They nat­u­rally shed their coat very cleanly each spring with­out any help or in­ter­ven­tion from me.

The other ques­tion that peo­ple al­ways ask is: “Where does it all go?” The sim­ple an­swer is that I don’t know. I do know that we don’t have fields cov­ered in moulted wool, although there is al­ways a bit on the fence as there is with all sheep. And when­ever we find a bird’s nest here, it is al­ways Wilt­shire Horn lined. I sus­pect that the rea­son it seems to van­ish is that it is a short, hairy coat that comes off grad­u­ally, rather than in one piece of thick woolly fleece which is how we usu­ally think of wool off a sheep’s back. So there is time for it to dis­perse nat­u­rally and with­out be­ing a nui­sance.

After shed­ding, the coat does grow again for pro­tec­tion next win­ter, but through the sum­mer months there is no more need for shear­ing, crutch­ing, dag­ging or dip­ping, plus the risk of fly­strike or a ewe with a heavy fleece get­ting stuck on her back is re­duced. And, of course, they stay much cooler in hot weather, although, like any sen­si­ble an­i­mal, they will help them­selves to any avail­able shade dur­ing the hottest part of the day.

This abil­ity to shed a coat, re­duc­ing the need for main­te­nance and in­creased tol­er­ance of warm weather has led to Wilt­shire Horn sheep be­ing ex­ported all over the world, typ­i­cally to coun­tries with hot­ter cli­mates, such as Aus­tralia, New Zealand, Kenya, the Gold Coast, the West Indies, the Ba­hamas and Zim­babwe, plus to Venezuela, Ar­gentina, Sri Lanka, Ghana and the Per­sian Gulf. More re­cently they have found their way to Por­tu­gal, Canada and the USA.

How­ever, if hot­ter sum­mers do be­come more fre­quent in the UK, the hot weather tol­er­ance of the Wilt­shire Horn could also be­come more ap­pre­ci­ated at home. If you are in­ter­ested in the po­ten­tial of this breed, the Wilt­shire Horn Sheep So­ci­ety shows and sales are ad­ver­tised else­where in this magazine and you can find more in­for­ma­tion on the breed so­ci­ety web­site at www.wilt­shire­horn.org.uk.

Wilt­shire Horn sheep nat­u­rally shed their coats cleanly each spring with­out hu­man in­ter­ven­tion

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