Wiltshire Horn, Cleanskin or Shedding
Wiltshire Horns are a dedicated meat sheep with highly desirable features both as terminal sires and in maternal prime lamb flocks. They are a hardy, productive breed which shed their wool annually in spring and are therefore known as a shedding or cleanskin breed (not to be confused with hair sheep). They are also one of oldest breeds of sheep which have been selected over hundreds of years for their ability to produce meat rather than wool. Prior to the wool price crash in Australia that occurred in the early nineties, Wiltshire Horns were a rare breed, but their numbers have been increasing with the decreasing economics of wool production.
The key advantage of the breed is that rather than incurring the cost of shearing, crutching and mulesing, the Wiltshire Horn drops its fleece naturally. The loss in income wool is compensated for in the lack of labour, chemicals and infrastructure that is needed for traditional woolly breeds. To demonstrate this point, the NSW Department of Primary Industries gross margin budgets, designed to “provide a guide to the relative profitability of similar enterprises and an indication of the different management practices used”, have put self-replacing cleanskin flocks ahead in profitability to traditional first cross merino ewes and terminal sires, whether on per hectare, DSE or ewe basis. The savings in shearing and crutching infrastructure enhance the savings recognised in the gross margin budgets further.
Inter-breed comparisons are rare in the scientific literature as there tends to be more variation within-breeds than between them. However the most recent comparative study involving Wiltshire Horns showed that Merino cross WIltshire Horn ewes produced more lambs, which grew faster from weaning to turnoff than Merino cross Border Leicester ewes (Rathie and Teasdale 1994). The latter cross currently being the most common first cross ewe composition. The Wiltshire Horn cross ewes also produced lambs with “leaner carcases capable of being efficiently grown to heavier liveweights than conventional Australian 3-breed crosses” (Rathie KA, Teasdale CK 1994 Assessing Wiltshire Horn-Merino crosses. 3. The 50% Wiltshire Horn as a prime lamb producer. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 34 (6) 733-739)
Whether used as a self-replacing flock, a maternal cross or a terminal sire, Wilshire Horns make a convincing case for prime lamb production. They are ideal for traditional prime lamb producers or producers moving away from wool-production, cattle or on those on too small an acreage to support wool infrastructure or get in shearers.