Rare Breeds Trust of Australia Sheep Coordinators Report

As the new Sheep Co-ordinator for the Rare Breeds Trust of Australia, one of my first tasks was to collate the numbers of some of our rare breed sheep over the past ten years to get a picture of where each breed sits and whether the numbers are progressing or regressing. Although some of our sheep are slowly increasing in number, the results overall were not very inspiring, particularly with regard to our breeds developed for wool.

Despite the fact we see current reports of excellent prices for wool, this does not translate to all breeds of wool producing sheep.  It is particularly difficult for breeders of rare breed wool sheep to market their wool as the sheep are generally in small flocks, making quantity an issue, so getting a full bale together would be virtually impossible. Fortunately, some breeders are value adding to their clip, by having the wool processed into combed top and selling it to hand spinners, weavers and felters, farm gate style. Thankfully, we now have mills like Cashmere Connections, who are happy to help the smaller breeders by processing small runs of fleece.

Three of our breeds that are really struggling are the three carpet wool breeds….the Tukidale, the Drysdale and the Elliottdale. All three are currently listed as Critical, with less than three hundred breeding ewes available, and with these three particular breeds, their numbers are  considerably less than three hundred. Unfortunately, it seems we have no market for Australian raised carpet wool. In this day and age I find this hard to comprehend as consumers look more and more towards locally grown and locally sourced produce. This is particularly disappointing with regards to the Elliottdale, which was specifically developed in Australia to meet the carpet wool demand, with the much sought after white wool with less kemp than the other breeds. Their future at the moment is looking very tenuous.

My hope for 2018 is to see an increase in the flock sizes of our rare breed sheep  and an appreciation of our Australian grown wool and its producers.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Safe and Happy New Year,

Sue Curliss

Sheep Co-ordinator

Rare breeds Trust of Australia

Well worth giving them a try!