Black and Coloured Sheep
Choosing the right fleece
Friday, 14 August 2009
By Crispin Caldicott
What do you look for when you are considering sheep? Rural Living recently asked this question of Lisa Clapperton, who in addition to running a native nursery has been breeding coloured sheep for several years.
“Fences are an important first step,” Lisa said. “The place doesn’t need to be Colditz, but you do have to have good fencing. A low hot wire is helpful, and I have seven wire and battens on all my boundary fences. Internally I’ve found wire without battens and a hot wire is fine provided the wires remain taut.
| Ewe is not fat, ewe is just cuddly. |
“You need to remember though that if there is no feed, (or for some reason your sheep feel the need) a fence will only be a psychological barrier which is true of cattle as well as sheep. Lambs are capable of going through a good fence although they generally like to stay with mum.”
Lisa firmly believes sheep are not stupid animals. “Sheep do have character, and as you get to know them you notice their traits more. You have to work with them – if you panic them, they lose the plot and then they are hopeless. As you watch them you will learn about individual behaviour and it becomes easier to spot an animal with a problem.”
“Overall,” Lisa continued, “it is far better to be understocked – you can always buy extras in next season, although don’t count on the next season being the same as the last, nature likes to keep you guessing. If you examine the finances, you don’t want to be buying in feed for sheep.
“Yards are important, and if you want to reduce any hassles during lambing then shelter is important, – coming out of a nice warm womb into a wet and windy paddock is a bit of a shock.
“Keeping flies at bay can be a problem, and you need to check regularly.
I do have fly traps around the paddocks and I use an insect inhibitor but generally I have little problem. I’m fairly sure cider vinegar and garlic helps; this is diluted and left in the paddock for the animals to help themselves.
“I always have salt and mineral licks available, as nutrition is vital to good animal health. I used a salt lick over summer one year which had molasses in, and I think it may have attracted the flies! However molasses is a useful winter supplement for pregnant and lactating animals in particular.”
Other than paddocks looking like lawns using the wool for craft work is fun and opens up lots of interesting avenues. “What you want to make with the wool can determine the breed to look for; also consider what suits your property and how much effort you want to put in.
Romney is an excellent all purpose breed, meat and wool, and has a good general purpose fleece. They tolerate damp patches and conditions as they were originally bred for a marsh! (Eds note: The Romney Marsh in Kent, SE England.) But Perendale, Gotland, Merino, Polwarth, Corriedale, all have advantages.
Talking to breeders in your area could help you decide what suits you and your block best. There is of course variation within the different breeds’ fleeces, and that in itself can lend interest to anyone seriously considering coloured sheep as a hobby.
Lisa showed Rural Living a number of fleeces for comparison, and it was fascinating to note just how much they did vary. The Corriedale Rams fleece was very soft, but also slightly smelly, though still very beautiful wool. The Polwarth had a distinct shine to it, and the Perendale was very springy. As part of the quality testing carried out on Perendale wool the staple was weighted for a period of time, to see how closely it returned to its original length.
In conclusion Lisa suggests the breed you choose will be the one that suits you and your property best. “You want to enjoy your sheep,” she said. “At the end of the day if they are happy and healthy life is much easier for everyone. It is certainly worth contacting the local breeders and The Black and Coloured Sheep Breeders Association, as members are willing to help and share experience gained, especially with newcomers.”