Farmers in the South-West have developed a new breed of sheep that will automatically lose their woolly coats when the weather gets warmer.

Exlana sheep, whose name is from a Latin term meaning ‘used to have wool’, are a cross-breed created using important semen and rams from diverse breeds such as the Barbados Blackbelly and St Croix.

blackbelly sheepBarbados Blackbelly

Exlana produce only 1lb of wool, 19lb less than a normal sheep, and it sheds from the sheep’s neck and legs in warm weather, leaving a temporary patch in the middle.

This means that farmers can wait for their sheep to moult rather than spending time and money on shearing. The new ewes are estimated to save farmers £8 per animal per year in labour costs.

Sheep Shearing

Peter Baber, who runs a farm in Christow, near Exeter, Devon, is one of nine farmers who are developing the sheep. He said: ‘It’s 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 spring. But the value of wool has reduced so much recently that it’s no longer economically viable to produce.

wool

‘I started thinking about alternative solutions, having seen them myself in Bolivia and Brazil. 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—about 5,000–7,000 years ago—and bred for their wool that they started needing to be shorn.

woolly sheep

‘Now, we have thousands of wool-shedding sheep on our farms. Their bodies recognise when it’s spring 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 and is carried away by birds or composts into the soil.’

Exlana sheep will soon be available to buy from Weir Park Farm in Devon for about £100 per lamb and £150 per ewe.

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