The extent to which breeds of sheep vary from one another in temperament is not always fully appreciated.
To get the best out of a breed one should be familiar with the conditions under which it has been developed.
These will have produced lasting influences on its temperament, preference in the matter of conditions, confirmation in relation to grazing steep country, powers of digestion etc.
The alert, almost nervous, Cheviot, for example, is a very different sheep in these respects from the Romney, and the Perendale, although half Romney, Cheviot in parentage, again is a very different sheep from both. It must be handled quietly.
With this quick moving, intelligent sheep you can get through the work sooner than with other breeds, and an excessive amount of noise and dogging is not required.
Type and its Importance
While production is of major importance, type is also very important in the Perendale which has been designed as an active sheep, and this is a type which New Zealand will always need for its immense acreage of hill country. Any improvements must be grafted on to this type without impairing the essential characters of an active sheep – hardiness, the ability to move on hills with the minimum expenditure of energy, a digestion which can utilise rough and inferior feed, the constitution to stand up to severe climatic conditions and, at the same time, the ability to wean a good percentage of strong lambs.
History has shown that so-called “improvements” under-mined some essential characteristics of a breed. Introduced under very favourable conditions with the object of attracting the buying public as being a more profitable type, they so often have done a great deal of harm. This sort of thing must be avoided at all costs.
Do not think you can go on for ever improving your type. There must come a time when the type and production of the good ewes in a well established flock are in balance with the environment, supply and quality of feed. At that stage the principal aim should be to raise the standard of the poorer ewes in the flock. Only a major change in conditions, due, say, to a radical change in management, warrants a definite change in type.
Among the principal differences between its conformation and that usually laid down for a lowland, long-woolled breed are the high withers, as opposed to level shoulders, and the upright carriage for the head. These two features together with shoulders well laid back and the correct amount of spring in the pasterns, enable this breed to pick up their front feet easily. Given in addition a slight slope at the tailhead, which makes for maximum drive from the hind-quarters, and you have the basis of a type of conformation which makes it easier for the sheep to move, and makes possible the maximum freedom on the hills. This ease of movement results in an active, good walking sheep – one which has no hesitation in walking to the back of the highest and roughest block of country, if the feed is there, and is easily mustered.
With the foregoing in mind, the most important directions are, in a few words, as follows:
- Avoid the abnormally broad head, heavy shoulders and excessive brisket of the specialised meat sheep – they give trouble at lambing and necessitate close shepherding.
- Avoid, also, the short “dumpy” type of sheep – profile ewes usually possess reasonable length of body. On the other hand, as they claim in Scotland, excessive length is a handicap to a sheep on steep country.
- Select for plenty of width between the hips and pinbones. This is far more important from the point of view of easy lambing than a straight carry-out to the tail-head. In other words, the breeding and milking type ewe has a suggestion of the wedge shape of the dairy cow.
- Above all, preserve the alert, active, labour-saving characteristics in the breed.
A ram should express masculinity and alertness. Masculinity in a ram can be judged by its eye and general attitude, rather than by the size of its head. A ewe should show that intelligence and female character found in outstanding sheep.
A flock of noticeably large in the head and heavy in the shoulders is not suitable for “unassisted” lambing.
Lower jaw: Well developed, i.e. deep and with a square or broad form to allow for sufficient spacing and, therefore, proper development of the incisor teeth. The latter should meet the pad at right angles, and no definite under-shot or over-shot condition should be tolerated.
Nose: Slightly roman. This type of nose, together with more or less erect ears, are indications of that active alert character which it is so necessary to preserve, if you want “Easy Care” sheep.
Head Covering: The face should be open and white with a covering of fine hair, indicating a soft handling fleece. Black spots on the face, are not permissible in stud sheep. There should be no wool below the eyes, and the crown or poll should be covered with a top-knot.
Ears: Of short to medium size with a 10 to 2 setting, giving an alert appearance – an indication of alert and active character. Their texture and covering should be soft handling, as indicative of a soft handling fleece. Thin, pink ears are undesirable, as in all breeds, as they are liable to scald. Small black spots are permissible, if only a few, but are objectionable and to be discouraged.
Horns: Not permissible.
Strong and should hold the head well up. This, together with the high winters and the setting of the shoulders, enables the sheep freedom of movement – a most important feature.
The withers should be higher than the shoulder blades, which should fit smoothly against the vertebrae. The shoulders be well laid back so as to produce the correct angle in the pasterns and to avoid any “straightness” in the front legs.
Excessive width, as favoured by some breeds, is to be avoided at all costs. It is quite unneccessary and is responsible for a lot of trouble at lambing.
The top view should be a wedge shape narrower in the shoulders with a wide back end. Since the withers are higher than in lowland breeds, and as there is usually a slight slope at the tailhead, the topline will not be so level from withers to tailhead. It is not discernible when the carcase is hung up and, therefore, does not detract from its value.
From the point of view of ease of lambing, this slope or droop is of no consequence. The all-important point in this connection is plenty of width between the points of both the hips and the pin bones, especially the former, or, in other words, the width of the hindquarters.
Chest, heart-girth and spring of ribs
The usual descriptions of these characters as for any breed of sheep apply equally to the Perendale with excessively deep briskets also contributing to lambing problems.
The front legs of a sheep should be straight when viewed from in front. On a structurally sound animal, a vertical line may be drawn from the point of the shoulder to the middle of the hoof. This line should intersect the knee.
‘Knock kneed’ sheep may have turned out front feet.
‘Bowed legged’ animals are often narrow in their stance and may roll their feet as they walk.
From the side, the forearm and cannon bones should be in a straight line. If the knee joint is forward of this line, pasterns and shoulders can be serious faults.
Excessively heavy bones and very short cannon bones should be avoided, and unnaturally short legs will handicap the hill sheep.
The structure of the hind legs is similar to the front.
There are well defined angles in the joints, at the hip, stifle, hock and pastern joints. The angles are critical, particularly during mating when large amounts of stress are placed on these joints in rams.
Too much angle in the leg joint is less than ideal and a ‘sickle hocked’ condition exists.
When viewed from behind the hock joint should be in a straight line.
A sheep is ‘cow hocked’ when the hocks are rotated inwards and the hooves rotated outwards. If the legs are wide at the hocks (bow legged), the feet are turned in. Extra pressure is placed on the hock joints and lameness is common.
The way the hooves grow often indicates structural problems further up the legs. Long or excessively short even claws may indicate too much or not enough pastern angle, causing both claws of the hoof to grow or wear excessively.
Overgrown claws affect the mobility and performance of the animal.
The figures below indicate the correct angle of the pastern joint.
The ideal fleece will be composed of well formed and free opening staple. It will generally show clear cut crimp formation in the staple.
Even if staple crimp should be lacking, fibre crimp as opposed to plain straight fibre, is acceptable.
It will grow at least 125mm of staple per year, preferably 150mm.
It will be full handling and weighty.
It will feel springy and crisp but not actually harsh.
It will be low in lustre – not shiny like Romney wool, not flat and chalky like Southdown.
It will be free of kemps and black fibre.
It will be of as good a colour and as free of vegetation as the class of country and the climate will permit.
Without a doubt, fleece weight is the most important single factor in achieving maximum returns for wool. In selection for any other parameter, weight should come first if there is conflict. Fortunately many of the ideals for the breed are consistent with maximum fleece weight so conflicting situations are not too common.
In subjective assessment, full handling, long stapled wools indicate good fleece weight but in the final analysis only actual weighing gives the complete picture. While this may not always be seen as a convenient selection technique on commercial farms, all ram breeders should be using it, and significant gains will be made only when weighing is used as a selection and breeding tool.
In earlier years the standard set by the Society was for ewe wools 32 micron and finer down to 32-36 microns. This may have been unrealistic as all flocks continued to produce some coarser woolled sheep and, as breeders will testify, there was a commercial demand for such sheep.
In response to a drop in the price differential for fine wools, the Society widened the acceptable range to include 36 micron for ewes and 36-38 micron for rams. The situation now seems satisfactory, good sheep are being produced in this range and commercial growers on improving country can obtain the class of Perendale they require.
While those who stayed with the finer Perendales have not lost out, many clips have settled down to a 32-38 micron range and as such, grading into one sale line by the removal of cotts, harsh, short and faulty fleeces is satisfactory.
Clips with a finer element should benefit by classing out the fine wools to separate the carpet from the knitting wools. Hogget clips especially can benefit from classing or, in the case of the smaller clips, grading out the low end to leave a fine line. 33 micron and 32 micron are premium wools.
Staple length does affect value with increasing values up to 150mm and a rapid drop off from 75mm downwards. This should be borne in mind when planning second shearing. Over 75mm opens the way for second shear wools to be used by the semi-worsted process.
In breeding, the short, blocky, harsh Cheviot type fleece should be eliminated because of their shortening effect on the clip and because they are normally light weight types.
Tensile soundness in wool is a very desirable feature and is reflected in price. However, because of the task set so many of our Perendale flocks, foraging over second class hill or on developing blocks, it is inevitable that much of the wool will be tender. Fortunately, woollen yarn spinners who can utilise tender wool are aware of its bulking properties for carpet, blanket or knitwear yarns, and are using it.
However, soundness opens the wool to a much wider demand and where conditions allow, management practice should aim at avoiding, or at least minimising the stresses that cause tenderness and break.
Wool that will wash white is more versatile in use than stained wool and will normally be of higher value. To a great extent colour is at the mercy of the climate and environment.
The following faults can be reduced in the flock by culling when obvious enough to gain attention.
Some of them would be automatically taken care of by selection on fleece weight but others require inspection.
Weak Back Wool
A fault found on the back, normally just behind the shoulders but may be more extensive. It shows as a patch of thin-stapled, washed-out, ultra-fine crimped wool, often very tender. It is frequently accompanied by fleece staining close to the skin down the sides caused by the rain having free access. In severe cases it may be found that the belly wool and behind the ears shows similar weakness.
Hairiness and Excessive Britch
With a high proportion of the national clip being processed into carpet yarns, these faults have been played down in recent years. This is unfortunate because although extra hairiness is of little consequence for good or bad in the coarser ewe wool, it does affect the value of both the lambs’ and the hoggets’ wool.
Balanced advice would be ‘Do not go overboard looking for these faults but when they are obvious to you, cull them out’. Do guard against being misled into thinking brushed tip on the sides is hairy. Look higher in the fleece where it has not been affected by brushing against fences or scrub.
Plain and Tippy Wools
Plain-straight fibred, lacking crimp. These wools will lack bulk and should be discriminated against.
Kemps are short, dead-white hairy fibres that may be found floating free in the fleece. They will not accept enough dye to colour in processing and are very brittle. They are a fault in any breed and kempy fleeced sheep should be culled. Look along the back and on the thighs.
Short Staple and Mush Wool
Both of these faults indicate low fleece weight. In flocks where fleece weighting is a basis for selection these types will be eliminated fairly quickly. Conversely, if the faults are identified visually and culled, fleece weight will be improved as an added benefit.
The short stapled wools will often be harsh and the fleece on the sheep almost resembling a Southdown fleece. While it looks compact and dense it will in fact be light.
The mush fleece will look characterless and may be fluffy. It will be very much the reverse of ‘full handling’.
Both types are prone to weather staining.
Early recognition of ‘Perendale type’ wool as being ‘springy’ and ‘resilient’ led to breeders being exhorted to aim for low lustred and springy wools.
Technically ‘bulk’ represents the wool’s resistance to compression and is measurable. Low bulk gives readings under 20, medium bulk will fit from 20-25 on the scale, with high bulk wools commencing at 25, while a satisfactory target for the Perendale would be 27 plus.
Bulky wools are generally low in lustre and have an assertive, helical crimp, somewhat in the nature of a coil spring. When processed into yarn, this crimp asserts itself and springs the fibres outwards creating greater yarn diameter and thus ‘bulk’ especially in relation to weight.
When used in carpet production this gives an improved, dense-pile appearance and a more luxurious impression underfoot. Finer qualities used in knitwear give more warmth and comfort in relation to weight and have improved shape retention.