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Originally published in Telegraph – April 8, 2010
The new breed, called Exlana, is being developed by farmers in South West England to lose their woolly coats automatically in Spring.
Now, instead of spending precious time and money shearing their sheep, they now simply waits for the light coats to ‘moult’ in the fields.
The wool, which is shorter and more sparse than a traditional British sheep, begins shedding around the animal’s neck and legs, often leaving a temporary patch in the middle.
Where a normal sheep would produce up to 20lbs (9kg) of wool, the Exlana – whose newly coined name from the Latin means ‘used to have wool’ – yields just 1lbs (500g).
The cross breed sheep – the first of their kind in the UK – were created using imported semen and rams from diverse and exotic breeds such as the Barbados Blackbelly and St. Croix.
The new ewes are estimated to save farmers eight pounds per animal per year in labour costs – which could equal thousands of pounds a year for a full flock.
These new exotic breeds have also proved more resistant to gut worms and need less chemical treatment, making them more ecologically and environmentally friendly.
Breeder Peter Baber, 54, who runs a farm in Christow, near Exeter, Devon, is spearheading the group of nine farmers who are developing the sheep.
He said: “It’s totally changed the way we work. It is the most forward-thinking step in British sheep farming for a long time.
“We used to have normal, woolly sheep at the farm and had to spend hours shearing them in the spring.
“But the value of wool has reduced so much recently that it’s no longer economically viable to produce.
“Shearing has just became a necessity and, quite frankly, a nuisance.
“I started thinking about alternative solutions about ten years ago, having seen them myself in Bolivia and Brazil.
“Further research revealed that there are many self-shearing sheep in other parts of the world.
“It’s perfectly natural, because of course sheep haven’t always grown wool as they do on British farms now.
“It wasn’t until they were domesticated – somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 years ago – and bred for their wool that they started needing to be shorn.
“There are breeds around the world, particularly in tropical areas, which still shed their sheep naturally, so we imported the genetics to start breeding.
“Now, we have thousands of wool-shedding sheep on our farms.
“Their bodies recognise when it is spring time and they naturally begin to shed their wool.
“It’s more furry and hairy than traditional wool – it feels closer to felt. It just drops off in the field and is carried away by birds or composts into the soil.
“It begins around the legs, bellies and neck, so sometimes they look a bit patchy for a few days while their backs catch up.
“I imagine that the birds on our farms must have the cosiest nests in Britain.”
The animals will soon be available to buy from Weir Park Farm in Devon, for around 100 pounds per lamb and 150 pounds per ewe.
Peter Baber was named Sheep Farmer of the Year in 2007.