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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



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The changes in the breed composition of the national flock have been noted by reference to a few breeds which have dominated breeding practices. The following is a summary of the breeds, their origin, importation, production characteristics, and fate in New Zealand sheep farming.


This is an old-established Spanish breed with European and United States distribution about 1800. Massive importations from Australia of commercial flock sheep (1840–60) were reinforced in later years by smaller importations of selected stud sheep from Europe, the United States, New South Wales, South Australia, and Tasmania. The breed was dominant in New Zealand until 1880; it accounted for about one-third of the sheep population in 1890, but since then has declined to about 3 per cent of the total sheep. Merino produces superfine wool of 60s to 64s count, but has primitive body shape.


The breed originated in Lincolnshire, England, during the early 1800s and is noted for big body size and heavyweight fleeces of long-stapled lustrous ‘coarse wool of 36s to 40s count. It was probably improved by infusion of the improved English Leicester about 1800. First arrivals reached New Zealand in 1840, but the first effective importation was made by New Zealand and Australian Land Co. in 1862. The breed was used extensively for crossing with the merino to produce successive top-cross generations, colonial half-bred (wool 50s count). three-quarter bred (wool 46s), and crossbred (wool 40s to 44s count). Lincoln rams dominated North Island sheep breeding until the 1890s but lost popularity because of the difficulty of rearing young crossbred sheep in the heavy rainfall areas. Today it is represented only by a few stud flocks and is used in commercial sheep breeding only for crossing with other breeds.


This breed originated in Canterbury by interbreeding the half-bred type of sheep resulting from crossing Lincoln and English Leicester rams with Merino ewes. The breed was named by an early breeder, James Little, because he carried out his early experimental breeding with Romney-Merino half-breds on the Corriedale station in North Otago. The name was adopted by the Conference of Agricultural and Pastoral Association in 1902. The breed, which was based on Lincoln – English Leicester Merino half-breds, was recognised by the New Zealand Sheepbreeders' Association in 1903 and was given full flock-book status in 1911. In 1923 breeders formed their own association and, in 1924, published the first volume of the Corriedale Flock Book. Meanwhile the breed had received international recognition and a regular trade had developed in the export of Canterbury sheep to the South American countries. the United States, Australia, Japan, and South Africa. Stud flocks at present number about 160. and mate about 29,000 ewes. Commercial Corriedale sheep number one and a half million, most being in Canterbury, Otago, and Marlborough. The fleece (about 50s and 56s counts) is intermediate between the coarse long-wool and fine Merino type, while the body shape is mutton type. Under good grazing conditions, Corriedale lambs grade as prime export carcasses.

The Half-bred

Half-breds (which are correctly the progeny of long-wool rams – Lincoln and Leicester – and Merino ewes) are also bred by mating first generation half-bred rams to half-bred-type ewes. In general, the production characteristics of the breed and its distribution are similar to the Corriedale.

Romney Marsh

The breed was developed on the rich pastures of the Romney Marsh in Kent. They were first imported to New Zealand (Wellington) in 1853, followed in 1864 by an importation to the South Island. The use of Romney rams on the crossbred ewe flocks in Wairarapa and Manawatu demonstrated the ability of the progeny to thrive in wet regions. By 1900 there were some 100 stud flocks and 23,000 stud ewes, but during the succeeding half century flocks exceeded 1,000 and ewes 206,000. This is a reflection of the increasing demand for Romney rams for use in the commercial hill flocks which at present can be classed as grade Romney in all sheep-raising areas except the light rainfall country in Marlborough, Canterbury, and Otago, where the fine-wool sheep still predominate. The fleece is about 46s count while the body shape is mutton type. The breed has been criticised as not being prolific, but records from various parts of New Zealand tend to show that low lambing percentages may be the result of environment rather than heredity.

Number of Sheep in Each Statistical Area Throughout New Zealand on 30 June 1964, with Percentage Increase or Decrease Over the Previous Year
North Island
Northland 1,4442,067 +2.94
Central Aucklanda 1,059,666 +3.19
South Auckland-Bay of Plenty 7,395,629 +7.55
East Coast 2,185,197 +4.08
Hawke's Bay 5,980,253 -0.04
Taranaki 1,518,330 +0.90
Wellington 8,200,984 +0.99
Total 27,782,126 +2.85
south island
Marlborough 1,298,475 +1.10
Nelson 599,683 +0.06
Westland 170,261 +1.13
Canerbury 8,761,118 +2.02
Otago 6,243,312 +0.44
Southland 6,436,923 +1.81
Total 23,509,772 +1.43
New zealand total 51,291,898 +2.19

By 30 june 1965 the new zealand total was 53.6 million. (no further details available, august 1965 -ed.)


This breed developed in the Cheviot Hills of the border country between England and Scotland. On the hill-country farms of Scotland, Cheviot ewes mated to border rams produced the Scottish half-bred. The wether lambs are fattened, but the ewe lambs are carried over and eventually mated to various fat-lamb rams to produce fat lambs. The Cheviot fleece is fine, short in the staple, and very light in weight. The breed first arrived in new zealand in 1845, but the effective importations were made in 1857 and 1866. It enjoyed short-lived popularity in Southland but had almost disappeared by 1910. Just before 1940 two flocks were re-established, and during the 1940 experimental work carried out by Massey College on inferior hill country it was demonstrated that the Cheviot-Romney crosses could be useful under unfavourable grazing conditions. This led to increasing use of Cheviot rams in restricted suitable areas and also to the development of a new breed, the Perendale. The Cheviot has also been used as a fat-lamb sire, but results indicate the place of the breed is on the less favoured hill-country farms.


The breed was developed on the South Downs of Sussex before 1800 and was the first of the improved “down-type” breeds. It is noted for its superbly developed mutton carcass and early maturity. The fleece is fine, short stapled, and very light in weight. The breed arrived in New Zealand in 1842, but it was not until 1863 that a persisting importation was made, though it was little used until after 1910. In 1920 there were still only 265 stud flocks and 59,000 ewes. By 1957, however, flocks had increased to 1,518 and ewes to 786,000, the result of an overseas demand for early maturing, lightweight lamb carcasses. It is at present a universal fat-lamb sire.


This is a down-type sheep bred in Hereford, England. The first importations did not arrive until 1902 and since then have continued in small numbers. The breed is intermediate in body size between the small Southdown and the large down-type breeds, such as the Suffolk.


This breed developed in Suffolk early last century by crossing Southdown rams with the local Norfolk horned ewes. It has big body size of mutton shape, but a light, fine, down-type fleece. It did not arrive in New Zealand until 1913 and thus missed the 1890–1910 period when the big fat-lamb sires were popular. It has persisted in small numbers.

South Suffolk

This is a new breed produced in Canterbury by interbreeding the progeny of Suffolk-Southdown crosses. The first flocks were recognised by the New Zealand Sheepbreeders' Association in 1940, and by 1958 there were 43 flocks and 2,200 ewes with full flock-book status, and 76 flocks and 4,400 ewes were still entered in the appendix. Body size is intermediate and the wool down type.

Dorset Down

Developed in Dorsetshire by mingling the Southdown with several other breeds, this is a true down type. It did not reach New Zealand until 1921, disappeared a few years later, was reintroduced in 1947, and still remains in small numbers.

Dorset Horn

This is a down-type, horned breed from Dorset. The ewes have the unusual characteristic (shared by the Merino) of a very long breeding season and, for this reason, will produce two crops of lambs in one year. Most of the British breeds are seasonal breeders and the ewes will mate only in the autumn. It was imported in 1897 and again in 1903, but had little attention given to it. A further importation in 1937 marked a period of breed increase, but numbers are still small. The recent use of polled rams developed in Australia may help to popularise the breed.

Hampshire Down

Another of the down-type breeds evolved by using Southdown rams on local ewes in Hampshire and the neighbouring counties, it is one of the biggest of the down-type breeds, but carries a light, fine fleece. The first importations arrived in 1863 and, although there were further importations during the eighties and later, the breed disappeared by 1903. It was reintroduced in 1951 and, since then, has attracted increasing interest.


A big-bodied, down-type breed developed in Shropshire, it arrived in Canterbury in 1863 and rapidly increased, but did not come into full use until after the export frozen-meat trade had begun. For 20 years (1885–1905) it competed with the Border Leicester in popularity as a fat-lamb sire, but both were gradually replaced by the southdown. A few small flocks are still maintained.

Border Leicester

Developed in the “border country” of England and Scotland by the use of the improved English Leicester on local Cheviot-type ewes, the breed is popular in scotland for crossing purposes. It was imported from 1859 onwards. It was used to mate to Merino ewes in competition with the English Leicester and Lincoln, but failed to become popular because of the light fleece clipped by the progeny. It was the dominant fat-lamb sire until 1910, but after that replaced by the Southdown. the breed has persisted in large numbers because of considerable exports to Australia (a market now closed to New Zealand breeders) and in recent years because of an increased use in hill-country flocks in an attempt to breed ewes which will produce more lambs. Border-Romney cross ewes in the North Island and Border-Corriedale cross ewes in the South Island have increased in recent years. High fertility is a strongly marked characteristic of the Border-Leicester breed. Along with the Shropshire, it was the size of the original “prime Canterbury” lamb.

English Leicester

This was the first of the British long-wool breeds to be improved; later it was used extensively in Britain to improve other local long-wool breeds. A true mutton-type sheep, growing a heavy fleece of long-stapled, coarse wool, it arrived in New Zealand in 1843 and was imported heavily for a long time. It was used freely to produce half-breds from Merino ewes and also as a fat-lamb sire. It continued in popularity until about 1910, but was then eclipsed by the rise of the Romney and the Southdown. A few flocks are still bred in Canterbury, the home of the breed in New Zealand.

Other breeds have from time to time appeared in New Zealand. Some remained for a few years without gaining a place in the industry, but all have disappeared without trace.

The Wensleydale (a Leicester type) was imported in 1894 and again in 1920; the Tunis, an American version of a North African breed and valued for carcass production in the United States, arrived in 1900, but failed to find a home; the Dartmoor (1864), the Roscommon (1904), and the Cotswold (1863) (three long-wool breeds showing Leicester influence), were made use of for a short time only; the Oxford Down (akin to the Shropshire) arrived too late in 1904; the Kerry Hill from Wales, a late arrival in 1937, remained restricted to one flock in Hawke's bay; while the fate of the Scotch Blackface (the only true mountain breed), imported in 1908, and the Chinese rams (whatever they were) which arrived in 1864, is unrecorded.

Association of Beef Cattle With Sheep Farming

The association of beef cattle with sheep farming is shown in the following table, which gives for each land district the beef-breeding cows, the number of steers per 100 beef cows, and the number of ewes per beef cow.

Comparison of Breeding Cows and Breeding Ewes
Statistical Area Beef Breeding Cows (in 000s) Steers per 100 Cows Breeding Ewes per Cow
Northland 93 93 10
Central Auckland 30 130 24
South Auckland-Bay of Plenty 252 112 19
East Coast 138 81 9
Hawke's Bay 174 110 24
Taranaki 35 118 31
Wellington 196 134 28
Marlborough 18 103 44
Nelson 12 124 33
Westland 12 99 11
Canerbury 49 95 86
Southland 42 109 115

Important points from the table are:

  1. South Auckland, Hawke's Bay, and Wellington all have more breeding cows than the whole of the South Island.

  2. The small figure for steers per 100 cows in Gisborne. Gisborne is a breeding, not a fattening area, and supplies store cattle to Auckland, Hawke's Bay, and Wellington.

  3. The high figure for steers per 100 cows, both in Hawke's Bay and in Wellington, shows that despite large breeding herds they import young store cattle from Gisborne.

  4. The high ratio of ewes per breeding cow for the major South Island districts indicates the small use made of beef cattle. The light rainfall in Marlborough, Canterbury, and Otago, and the longer winter period in all districts, makes the need for beef cattle less urgent than in the North Island. Because of the relatively short period of vigorous pasture growth supplementary feeding is necessary during a considerable part of the year and this increases the cost of beef production.

Beef-cow numbers doubled between 1920–24 and 1950–54 periods, but the yearly output of beef carcasses fluctuated from 83,000, the average for the 1930–34 period, to 220,000, which was the average for the 1943–49 period. On the average about 54 per cent of the beef produced is exported, which compares with 94 per cent for lamb and 49 per cent for mutton. The value of beef, veal, and hides exported in 1963–64 was as follows:

Chilled beef 113,000
Frozen beef 25,736,000
Veal 3,255,000
Hides 2,762,000

It is important to remember that the dairy industry contributes to the meat, veal, and hides income. For the same year the export value of wool was £138,324,000; of lamb, £47,136,000; and of mutton, £6,398,000.

by Percival George Stevens, DIP.AGR., formerly Senior Lecturer in Animal Science, Lincoln Agricultural College.