NEW ZEALAND researchers expect to have an Easy Care ewe available for mating this year. The New Zealand breed can be shorn in half the time it takes to shear other wool breeds.
With labour shortages, as well as the animal welfare movement in mind, New Zealand's Meat and Wool Innovation funded a project to breed a sheep that does not have to be tailed, mulesed and is more easily shorn.
The product of six years research, the short-tailed ewe will not grow wool on the head, belly, backside or legs.
According to David Scobie, researcher with New Zealand's AgResearch, the Easy Care sheep will yield 80pc of standard fleece weights, reducing wool from these bare areas by 1kg per animal.
"This loss of what is usually lower quality wool, would be offset by reduced shearing, crutching, mulesing and tailing labour costs," he said.
"Shearing would take half the time and controversial jobs such as mulesing would be eliminated.
"The tail will be 15cm in length which allows animals full control to hold the tail out of harms way during bodily functions such as urinating and defaecating.
"Research has shown that flystrike can be reduced with a bare backside, similar to that achieved by mulesing and crutching in the past.
"We have been able to achieve a genetically bare area of skin using cross breeding and selection."
Easy Care sheep have involved an interbreeding program of 13 breeds and nine feral strains of sheep, the latter predominantly Merino-based.
The short tail traits came out of Finnish Landrace sheep, the bare breech from Wiltshires and bare bellies from the Texel breed.
Like the recent Wool Poll in Australia, New Zealand producers voted on the future of research and development funding last year.
Previously, a compulsory 2pc levy was collected for the Merino Company for marketing, with a further 2pc taken on behalf of Merino Incorporated for a research and development levy.
In August, New Zealand farmers voted resoundingly to continue funding red meat and wool industry-good activities through a compulsory levy and to form a single meat and wool organisation, Meat New Zealand.
The concept of a single organisation was supported strongly by farmers, 80pc of them supporting it in the vote.
Industry-good activities include trade access, research and development, market development for red meat and education and training.
On weighted stock numbers, 76pc and 77pc voted for the sheepmeat and beef proposals, respectively and 72pc for wool.
The compulsory levy, to be collected under the Commodity Levies Act 1990, requires thresholds on both a one-farm-one-vote count and a weighted stock numbers to be passed by a simple majority.
Sheep numbers continue to drop in New Zealand and there are now estimated to be 39 million sheep (or 26m breeding ewes).
Mr Scobie said the decline is levelling off as returns for other land-use options such as dairying and forestry are not as profitable as they have been.
"Recent statistics suggest that sheep farming is the most profitable rural enterprise due to increasing demand and reduced supply for sheep meat," he said.
"The improved value of the New Zealand dollar has affected sheep farm incomes recently."
The controversial proposal to introduce a "fart tax" ‹ levied at $600 per farm ‹ to cover animal methane emissions was dropped last year, New Zealand farmers protesting that they are the lifeblood of the country and should not be burdened with further costs.
Meanwhile, New Zealand farmers have voted resoundingly to continue funding red meat and wool industry-good activities, and to form a single meat and wool organisation. A clear majority also voted to retain reserves and continue investing in biotechnology.
Meat New Zealand chairman Jeff Grant said the vote result was a strong mandate for the single organisation.
"The turnout was good, and the clear majorities on all counts show farmers fully support the industry-good proposals," he said.
The industry-good activities include trade access, research and development, and market development for red meat, and education and training.
On weighted stock numbers, 76pc and 77pc voted for the sheepmeat and beef proposals respectively, 72pc for wool, and 67pc for goatmeat. SheepCo chairman Mike Petersen said the results showed farmers had fully endorsed the concept of the single organisation.
"Right from the start we had a strong message from farmers that they wanted a single organisation with a different approach, and 80pc of them supported it in the vote," he said.
"Farmers wanted a change, and the single organisation will give them that ‹ it has to be more accountable to farmers, with annual consultation about the levy rate. The five-yearly farmer vote under the CLA is the ultimate test."
The Commodity Levies Act (CLA) votes for sheepmeat, beef, goatmeat and wool, were successful on both a one-farm-one-vote count, and on a weighted stock number count. The The votes in favour are as follows (given as one-farm-one-vote, then weighted stock number): sheepmeat 72% and 76%; beef 74% and 77%; wool 68% and 72%, goatmeat 67% and 67%.
Three additional questions asked of red meat producers were also successful on both counts. The questions were on establishing the single organisation, keeping reserves, and investing in biotechnology.
The votes in favour are as follows (given as one-farm-one-vote, then weighted stock number): single organisation 77% and 80%; reserves 68% and 70%; biotechnology 69% and 72%.
Grant said: "Reserves provide an important safety net for farmers. $52 million is set aside as an emergency fund in case we need to restore consumer confidence in red meat for any reason. The reserves also provide a way to invest in biotechnology now, to deliver benefit to the next generation of farmers."
Grant said he was satisfied with the turnout. "Historically the CLA hasn't had really high numbers participating. So I was pleased to hear that farmers representing over sixty percent of national stock numbers had voted." Of the 33,714 farmers sent voting papers, 37% (12,591) cast votes, representing 62% of total production. This represents 67% of sheep numbers, 58% of beef, 23% of dairy cattle, and 68% of goats.
The referendum was managed by an independent company, election.com Ltd, and an independent scrutineer, a Justice of the Peace, reviewed the process.
The next step is for the single organisation to apply to the Minister for a levy order. Although this may take some time, the levy order is not planned to be effective until July 2004. In the interim the current meat and wool levy collection arrangements continue under existing legislation.