Woolly jumpers - blast from past
Thursday, 15 December 2011
By By Rebecca Glover
Arapawa sheep are an interesting reminder of our wild – and woolly – past; of a time when overseas travel was more than just a matter of hopping aboard a plane to wherever you fancy.
| The Arapawa’s spectacular horns hint at Merino influence. |
Deposited on Arapawa Island in the Marlborough Sounds as a food supply for 19th century whalers and sealers or shipwreck survivors, they adapted to the spartan conditions and are now recognised as a breed in their own right.
Many have speculated as to their origins, but they show the influence of a brief attempt to farm Merinos on the island in 1867, not least in the spectacular sweep of the rams’ horns.
Now classified as a rare breed, Arapawa rams are nevertheless hunted as trophies in some areas, with some even having been exported to the US for that purpose.
These small, rangy sheep have many of the easy care characteristics sought after in today’s commercial flocks, so much so that Lincoln University scientists have studied them.
Resistant to worms, footrot and flystrike, they will even shed their own wool given the chance. The wool is very fine and soft, coming in a range of colours on the often bi-coloured sheep.
At Fat Tui Farm in Pukekawa, Erin Mills has found a novel use for some of the wool shed by her small Arapawa flock.
“We protect the fruit trees from possums by putting wool round the bases like a little duvet, and the possums get their claws stuck in it,” she says.
She has also noticed some unsheeplike behaviour.
“The sheep form a circle, heads inward and tails flicking to deal with flies.
“They will also roll around on the ground, presumably to deal with insect pests.”
Although twinning is uncommon, ewes can produce three lambs in two years.
Erin has found her resident ram, Manuel, is a devoted father. As well as being very protective of his ewes, he is creche supervisor to his lambs while their mothers wander off to graze.
Manuel is the only named male in the flock – the others end up in the freezer. What’s more, the Mills family find them very tasty – and just the right size.
And, size does matter with Arapawas, whose island origins have endowed them with superior flight responses which can make them tricky to handle. But Erin finds their comparatively small stature a plus. “They’re small enough to handle but big enough to feed the family.”