A response to the declining value of wool
An exciting project is underway at Wairere Rams as the team develops a new breed of woolless sheep.
Business manager Simon Buckley said the farm still believes in wool.
However, its value had declined for many years, costing today’s farmers more time and money to produce than it was worth.
“If you go back to the late 1980s, wool was probably up to 50 to 60 percent or more of a sheep farmer’s income,” Buckley said.
“Most sheep farmers today would say it costs more to produce than what we get for it.”
Looking to the future, the Wairere team began working on a solution to the industry’s problem: furry sheep.
“There was no good alternative,” Buckley said.
“The only alternatives were a change in land use or raising more cattle, and that’s why our sheep numbers went down.
“About 4,000 sheep every day for 35 years have disappeared from New Zealand.”
Buckley said that if sheep numbers continue to drop, there won’t be any left in 35 to 40 years.
“New Zealand sheep farmers still believe in wool, the belief that it is a valuable commodity and that the value will recover in real terms. People have been hoping for this for a long time and it hasn’t happened. not produced.
He said competitive prices for synthetics have contributed to the decline in the value of wool.
Despite an “oversupply and under-demand” for wool, farmers still had to shear their sheep, which meant they were still produced and risked “going to waste”.
“Farmers are increasingly disappointed with the net benefits of wool. Costs keep rising and revenues keep falling.
“One of our goals is to provide what people will need in the future.”
Buckley said the Wairere company had a farm in the UK that provided the genetics to produce furry sheep and decided to bring the breed to New Zealand.
He said the company aims to provide wool-free sheep to avoid shearing and maintenance costs, but sheep that shed naturally or don’t shed at all are nothing new.
“It was the intervention of people that developed the sheep as they are,” he said.
“They grow wool everywhere, and you have to remove it mechanically. Going back in history, sheep lose their wool because it becomes a risk for them if they continue to grow.
He said artificial insemination of sheep and transfer of transplanted embryos was unnatural, but was a way for Wairere Rams to speed up the process.
After identifying the genetics that would do well in New Zealand, the transfer from the UK began in September 2021.
Over 1000 sheep have been inseminated and their lambs are expected to arrive in the spring.
Meanwhile, Wairere’s team are “eagerly waiting”, hoping to offer Kiwi farmers ram pigs for mating in a year’s time.
“People come to our door because they trust us. We want to be able to provide whatever they want.
“We believe that with the importation of furry sheep and the development of sheep that do not produce wool and are well adapted to New Zealand farming conditions and systems, we can provide a logical alternative.
“This might be the best thing that ever happened to wool.”
After several years of research, genetics deemed suitable for local conditions were transported to New Zealand and the process of artificial insemination began on site at Wairere.
Until the sheep bred, the results were yet to be seen and the team was eager to see the success of their work.
Along with the new breed, Wairere Rams would continue to produce wool sheep.
“We’ll produce a lot of sheep with a lot of wool, but as a supplier of sheep genetics, if we don’t supply those sheep that we think people will want, they’ll go somewhere else,” Buckley said.
“It is only a small part of our total genetic offering, but it will provide an alternative for those wishing to move away from wool and the costs associated with growing it.”
Buckley said pursuing the new breed comes with challenges — which they may not have thought of yet — but they will overcome them and tackle them as best they can.
“If you do the same thing over and over again, you’re going to go bankrupt. Having the ability to innovate and change what you do is essential for any business.