RARITY STATUS OF SHEEP BREEDS IN AUSTRALIA IN 2004
Extinct or Lost from Australia
• Horned Polwarth (Aust only)
(< 500 breeding ewes)
(< 900 breeding ewes)
• Dorset Down
|Recommended for Investigation
New Creations or Introductions
East Friesians (87 breeding ewes)
In assessing the significance of sheep breeds to the RBTA, the group that have been recommended for critical status
either exist in exceedingly low breeding numbers or have been known in the sheep community in the last decade but
have proved elusive to locate despite reasonable investigation. It is more than likely small pockets of purebreds exist
on farms carrying commercially viable breeds and my recommendation is that we make it a priority to track down
former breeders to ascertain what has become of the Horned Polwarth, Cormo, Zenith, Elliotdale, Booroola Merino
and Carpetmaster. Of these, the Horned Polwarth, Zenith, Elliotdale and Booroola Merino are Australian originated
and are probably not represented outside Australia.
The Camden Merino should be considered Australia’s most historically important sheep breed. It is doubtful the
specimens remaining today date back to the first flock John Macarthur developed at the beginning of the 19th century.
Most sheep in the colony at that time carried the genes of Cape or Indian breeds because there were so few in
Australia. It is more likely current Camden Merinos trace back to improved flocks belonging to the Macarthur family
from the 1830s or later. Regardless, Camdens and Macarthurs are connected and so should share the historical
recognition this family is given for their contribution to Australian farming and the wool industry.
The Carpetmaster and Cormo have origins in NZ. The Carpetmaster appears to have died out there; it has not been
included among the breed profiles in Sheep Breeds of NZ (Meadows, Reed, 1997). The entry for the Cormo suggests
numbers of 65,000 exist there, a thriving population. The Cormo was developed first in Tasmania and the genetic
crossing used to produce it duplicated in NZ though with slightly different Merino bloodlines. Discussion needs to
take place to decide whether the Cormo should to be on our critical list or whether our energies should be focused on
breeds where there are no known populations outside Australia.
The dilemma regarding the Cormo is repeated when the South Dorset Down is considered. It was developed in NZ
from Dorset Down and Southdown and an existing population of 5000 is quoted by Meadows in Sheep Breeds of NZ.
As well, the parent breeds still exist and so it could be possible to recreate it. There are no studs registered in the 2003
Flock Book (Aust). The Dorset Down and Shropshire are inclusions in the critical category because of their limited
breeding numbers. With the present preoccupation of the wool industry with pigmented contamination of the national
wool clip, a greater prejudice against breeds with coloured points will develop and this does not auger well for the
promotion or preservation of Shropshire and Dorset Down.
The Endangered category to date has five recommendations; two British strong wool breeds, a prime lamb terminal
sire and two carpet wool breeds. Both the Lincoln and the English Leicester have suffered a drop of almost half in the
numbers of breeding ewes kept since 1994. As larger scale breeders age and encounter ill health and have to downsize,
these two breeds will face less certain futures. Small markets that accounted for reasonable sales of fleeces have dried
up; the Chinese market for long-stapled fleece for dolls’ hair has disappeared as has the former local market for roller
lagging. The Ryeland’s continued presence in the public arena is due to the dedicated commitment of one numerically
large stud breeder, a situation which cannot last forever. The breed has some long-term potential as an alternative
terminal sire to the very popular Poll Dorset and White Suffolk, but much more promotion is needed to educate small
breeders about the Ryeland’s qualities.
The future is not good for carpet wool breeds because they have medullated fibre and this is another contaminant that
is downgrading the national wool clip. As well, there is no demand for carpet wool and breeders pay more for shearing
(twice yearly) and cartage of wool bales than they receive for wool. Breeders say there is no future with carpet wool
and no interest in the sheep, a most concerning situation.
With the recommendation for the vulnerable category, the Cheviot appears to be in the most precarious position. It’s a
lively, flighty sheep so a handful for less experienced keepers, it’s a strong wool breed with terminal sire
characteristics but it’s not well known. Serious promotion is required to keep numbers stable.
The Hampshire has done well in feed conversion/growth rate trials and also in taste trials and so is a good choice for
small farmers wanting a money making sheep that is appealing to look at.
The Dorset Horn has been sliding back numerically – the horns are a curse for breeders to handle and the best qualities
of this breed can now be found in the successful Poll Dorset. Breeders of the Poll access the Dorset Horn to retain
nonseasonal breeding and meat carcase traits and for as long as this practice continues the Dorset Horn will be safe.
Breeds that need careful watching include the Romney and also the Perendale, Coopworth and Gromark.
Among many new creations and introductions there are breeders with low numbers of breeding ewes, low enough to
be considered for our conservation categories, but they do not meet the criteria that would bring them to our attention.
Little is known about the relative proportions of each of approximately
40 breeds that make up 4.5% of Australia’s
national sheep flock. Although many breeds have their own breed registries, the data has not been collated into one
source because of insufficient resources to do so. This data is imperative if we are to effectively track changing breed
numbers and monitor the viability of remnant breed populations. RBTA believes that around half of these breeds are
threatened or in danger of being lost in Australia in the next ten years if immediate action is not taken. Many of the
breeds are Australian derived breeds not found anywhere else in the world. As such their preservation should receive
Funds are urgently required to complete the survey of sheep breed genetics and to implement a national audit of sheep
breeds in Australia. Once a complete picture of the state of these breeds is determined, a strategy needs to be devised
• which breeds are of greatest significance for preservation
• how these breeds can best be secured.
Last updated 6 January, 2005