A very small proportion of wool producing sheep are British breeds, such as Drysdale, Lincoln and Tukidale that produce long-stapled wool used for carpet production. The Corriedale, Border Leister, Romney and Cheviot are amongst many dual purpose breeds, producing both meat and wool, making up 1% of the national sheep flock. Their wool is considerably coarser than Merino wool. The considerable proportion of the sheep flock that are first-cross Merinos form the maternal component of prime lamb production.
There are many other pure breeds of sheep that are grown for prime lamb production, and their wool is not of a premium grade, such as Border Leister, Poll Dorset and Suffolk and some breeds such as Dorper, Wiltshire Horn, Wiltipoll and Damara and crosses that self-shed their fleece.
Wool producers generally have self-replacing flocks where the rams (sires) are carefully selected on-farm or bought from a ram breeder to breed the most productive progeny. Breeding programs may also involve artificial insemination and embryo transfer if very specific or superior genetics are sought. Good animal husbandry and pasture management for rams and ewes will have a significant influence on successful conception and lambing rates.
Detailed information about sheep breeding and links to sites providing information on genetic benchmarking, performance and selection is provided by Australian Wool Innovation and Meat & Livestock Australia.
Sheep are readily purchased through livestock agents or farm and stud sales. If inexperienced in purchasing sheep, the services of a stock agent, private consultant or someone with experience will be invaluable in terms of assessing prospective stock for health and performance in the local district.
There are many programs in place to help with the selection of new stock, and rams in particular, to ensure that quality genetics are being purchased and new stock will make ongoing productivity gains to a flock. There are many sheep breed associations that provide details of stud breeders with stock for sale. Once a flock nucleus has been established, new genetics may be introduced to the flock through regular purchase of new rams, or the use of artificial breeding technologies.
Health care & pests and diseases
Along with balanced and efficient feeding practices, a proactive health care program is essential for a profitable sheep enterprise. A basic parasite and disease control program should be established for the prevention and/or minimisation of worms, flies, lice and clostridial diseases like pulpy kidney. While a health program will require actions throughout the year, these generally can be timed to coincide with other husbandry operations such as crutching, weaning or shearing. There are a wide range of information and tools available to minimise any impacts of flystrike, lice and worms in sheep.
A disease of particular note is Ovine Johne’s disease (OJD) which is a significant and serious bacterial disease that leads to wasting and death of infected animals. A flock may be infected for several years before the disease is detected. The manure of infected animals hosts the OJD bacteria in high concentrations, and healthy sheep can pick up the infection from contaminated infrastructure, pasture, water and teats. The bacteria can survive for many months in shaded environments. There is a National OJD Management Plan 2013–18 to guide nationwide minimisation of spread and impact.
Follow biosecurity recommendations when buying sheep or moving sheep around different properties to minimise the risk of introducing parasites and diseases. When buying sheep, insist the vendor provides a National Sheep Health Statement, a declaration of animal health status for serious conditions such as ovine Johnes disease, footrot, lice and ovine brucellosis.
Predators such as wild dogs and wandering town dogs can also be a serious management issue as they attack and kill livestock. Some states, including New South Wales and Queensland have strategies in place for managing wild dog populations which also outline landholder responsibilities (see Risks/Challenges section).
More information about healthcare can be provided by livestock advisors and health product retailers. Most state departments of primary industries have information about healthcare on their websites (see Publications/information tab for links) and the website Making More from Sheep provides links to programs and tools to help wool growers keep their flocks healthy.