New breed of sheep is key to Southland family’s biological success

This year marks 30 years of breeding for the Mangapiri Downs stud.

Imagine a breed of sheep that does not require typing, shearing, vaccination or soaking. He is very fertile, lives a reproductive life of 15 years or more and puts all his energy into producing meat.

It has been a 30 year labor of love for Tim and Helen Gow and their family at Mangapiri Downs Organic Stud and this year they are busy selling over 100 Shire rams.

The Gow family established their Wiltshire herd in 1987 after seeing them in England a few years earlier.

“The horned Wiltshire is believed to descend from the Persian hairy beef mutton brought to Britain by the Romans as the first British meat sheep,” he said.

The breed was imported to Australia in 1952 and when wool prices collapsed in the 1970s others were imported and some came to New Zealand.

The breed developed in the 1980s with an open herd policy using the breed’s growth rates and leanness characteristics to develop high performance Wiltshire sounding rams for use as terminal bulls, and Mr Gow found the ideal Wiltshire breed for organic products.

Tim Gow's late uncle, Scott Dolling, was a sheep geneticist from South Australia.  He gave Tim some extremely valuable breeding advice when he started his kennel.
Tim Gow’s late uncle, Scott Dolling, was a sheep geneticist from South Australia. He gave Tim some extremely valuable breeding advice when he started his kennel.

Wiltshires mainly shed the fleece they grow in spring and summer.

Mr Gow said his late uncle Scott Dolling, who was a sheep geneticist from South Australia, gave him breeding advice using the hair strain in his Wiltshire and German (bald marsh) sheep.

“For many years Scott visited us here and found that the unusual furry rams lambs I showed him in 1998 were exactly like the ancient Persian furry meat breed; always covered in hair, with a distinct appearance.

“He analyzed the strain in our herd and helped me develop it using the German sheep, which also has the Persian hair strain. We had the largest herd in New Zealand of this imported breed and had found the German white-headed swamp sheep strain best wool breed for organic meat. “

Over the decades, Mr. Gow has developed this new breed of Shire. It is unique to New Zealand and complements an organic farming system very well, as the breed is known for its vitality, longevity, natural immunity, and meat.

Organics are something Mr. Gow said he rubbed off on him at a young age. “When my father died, I was only 9 years old. Mom was an excellent farmer and she was also an avid farmer of organic vegetables using compost. “

Mr. Gow traveled extensively before purchasing land from the family in 1980.

“Having high debt, the bank expects you to farm the conventional way and do what everyone else does. But in 1985 my mom and I traveled through China and I [travelled] across Russia and Europe with my wife, Helen. We have seen organic farming and the development of organic markets. Upon our return, we found out that we were disappointed with conventional farming and worked to achieve organic certification in 1989.

“Many modern sheep breeds depend heavily on chemicals to keep them alive; they do not do well in an organic system. The Shire breed has been key for us to not only survive in an organic farming system, but also thrive. “

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