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  • Easy care sheep, developed by AgResearch, have been selectively bred to be more productive and less labour-intensive for farmers. Our collection of resources on this reveals more about these sheep and why they were developed.

    Rights: Photographer: Susie Scobie, STRAIGHT FURROW

    Easy care sheep

    Easy care sheep are bred to have less wool in key areas making them easier and cheaper to maintain.

    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.

    Dags and flystrike

    Dags and flystrike affect the welfare of sheep. Here, Dr David Scobie from AgResearch explains how they occur and their impact on sheep.

    Select here to view video transcript and copyright information.

    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 need for easy care sheep 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.

    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.

    Selective breeding, cloning and GM

    Selective breeding, cloning and genetic modification are compared as techniques for sheep breeding, by Dr David Scobie of AgResearch.

    Select here to view video transcript, terms to discuss and copyright information.

    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. Find out more about breeding easy care sheep.

    Heritability of sheep traits

    Dr David Scobie from AgResearch explains how heritability of sheep traits is determined and measured.

    Select here to view video transcript, terms to discuss, Questions to consider and copyright information.

    Easy care sheep – a success

    Dr David Scobie's research project came to a close after more than a decade of selective breeding. The research flocks were sold to breeders and commercial farmers in 2014, some of whom are maintaining and expanding the wool-less Wiltshire and low cost easy care sheep lines. The project made a valuable contribution to sheep breeding in New Zealand.

    Nature of science

    Although research programmes come to a conclusion, the knowledge does not end with it. David Scobie used the research information to publish 6 papers in science journals and give more than 10 conference presentations. Knowledge gained from this programme will inform future research in New Zealand and around the world.

    Related content

    Learn about the work of scientists to selectively breed sheep with lower greenhouse gas emissions in Breeding low-methane sheep.

    Explore how CT scanning is being used to improve sheep meat production in Improving sheep genetics with CT scanning.

    Useful links

    Find out more about the end of easy care sheep project in 2014 and the sale of 300 scientifically-bred sheep in this Stuff news article and how some farmers have continued to find benefits here.

      Published 23 July 2010, Updated 15 March 2018 Referencing Hub articles
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