Retired farmer Robert Port is looking for someone willing to take over his flock of ryeland sheep.
Wanted: Experienced sheep breeder willing to buy and raise a flock of one of the rarest sheep breeds in the country.
The herd of 40 ryeland ewes is being offered for sale by owner Robert Port, who has retired from breeding.
He is one of seven New Zealand farmers who raise ryeland sheep. His flock is the oldest in the country and he started raising sheep in 1969.
Port said he wanted to sell the herd to a farmer who appreciated and maintained the unique characteristics of the breed.
* An enthusiast of rare breeds breeds sheep and poultry
* English breed of sheep leicester “heritage” ready for a return
“Ideally, the flock buyer would be someone who has experience with sheep and sees them as a lifestyle interest and something that they can promote and continue.
“I believe there might still be a future for them and I believe there always will be.”
The Ryelands are dual purpose sheep providing meat and wool. Their 28-32 micron wool is free from black fibers and was traditionally used for spinning and hosiery.
Port’s father started herding ryelands after buying some of them while working as a stockman in Manawatu in the late 1930s. He then buys a flock of 80 purebred sheep from a farmer. Geraldine who retires and who becomes the base of the family herd.
Two years later they started selling rye rams as well as raising Hereford bulls at their stud farm at Bushey Downs, east of Otorohanga.
At that time, the breed was extremely popular among farmers, many of whom were exported to Australia. Demand then slowed.
“Other breeds came up and it’s like the fashion. They were very popular and the Southdowns were the rival breed.”
Like an old car that has become obsolete with a more modern vehicle, the ryeland has been replaced by merino, he said.
“It was only later that merino was developed in Australia and New Zealand and took over the niche rye market.”
Demand for ryeland sheep has slowly declined as more farmers have turned to dairy grazing or to different breeds of sheep in response to falling wool prices.
Port said the ryelands have an incredible temper, are less fickle with humans than other races, and will respond verbally when called out.
“They’re unique. You put them in a pen with another race and before you can say hoot, the ryelands are down there on their own.”
While Bushey Downs’ main source of income was herding Hereford cattle, he kept the ryelands over the years in the hope that the wool industry would take a turn and the breed back into fashion.
“Someday the wool will pick up and someone will say ryelands are unique,” he said.
He crossed rye rams with romney sheep while maintaining his flock of rye sheep, but the sheep could also be crossed with other white-faced breeds like a coopworth or perendale.
The genetics of the ryeland gave the Romney cross lamb a faster finishing weight. They were also free from foot issues and did not appear to have any facial eczema issues.
“The hybrid vigor of the cross makes it a very good sheep.”
The Ryelands are one of the oldest English breeds and originated in the UK from Herefordshire, the same region that was the birthplace of Hereford cattle. The breed is also known for its ability to feed and survive in poor quality pastures.
Port said their rye herd tended to survive drought conditions better.
His son Calvin now runs the stud and wants sheep numbers rather than spending his time raising a small flock of rare breed sheep.
Port said now is also a good time to sell the herd due to the good prices being obtained at the sales yards and the abundance of feed available in much of the country.