History of the Wiltshire Horn, the parent breed of the Wiltipoll
It has been said that the Wiltshire Horn was derived from Mediterranean sheep breeds such as those of Corsica and Sardinia and were taken to Britain by the Ancient Romans as the original British meat sheep. However, in its modern form the Wiltshire Horn may have come about indirectly from those original sheep via some of the Welsh Mountain breeds. In turn, it has played a part in the origin of breeds such as the Dorset Horn and Southdown.
In the 18th Century it was said to have been the most numerous sheep in Britain, with total numbers perhaps in the millions. It was used to convert the poor Downs pastures into manure for fertiliser (the sheep being penned each night) and for meat, the long legged hardy breed being able to cover great distances. After the 18th Century, changes to farming practices in the region and the introduction of new breeds with either more wool (Merino) or fatter lambs (Southdowns) led to its decline. By the early 20th Century it was becoming rare and a British Society was formed in 1923 to ensure its survival in a pure form.
Development of the Wiltipoll Breed
The Wiltshire Horn was brought to Australia in 1952 by the Crossthwaite family, but with high wool prices and demand for fatter lambs it did not thrive. The breed was nearly extinct by 1970 when it was rescued by the Harwood family, who brought two rams and fifteen ewes in 1969 and took them to the family property at Lillydale, Victoria. In 1972, Greg and Margie Toll established a flock of Wiltshire Horns at Gunbower, Victoria, which is still flourishing today.
In 1978, Noel and Prue Bonnin, David and Dilys Craven and Bob Burston bought pure-bred Wiltshire Horn rams and 1st cross ewes (Border Leicester/Wiltshire Horn) and transported them to the Hindmarsh Valley, South Australia. In 1994, Annie and John Hughes of Kars Station, Broken Hill, New South Wales, purchased ewes and rams from the above breeders and proceeded to breed selectively for polledness.
In 1974, Harry and Jill Powell of Munna Wiltipoll, Coolah, New South Wales, purchased their first Wiltshire Horn rams from Leo Harwood, Victoria and bred Wiltshire Horn sheep for twenty four years. In 1998, 6 of their poll ewes were joined to a Wiltipoll ram purchased from Annie Hughes of Kars Station. In 2000, they purchased another Wiltipoll ram from Annie Hughes and joined him to all their Wiltshire Horn ewes. Then two years later all the Wiltshire Horn ewes were sold to concentrate on their Wiltipoll flock. In 2005, 204 Wiltipoll ewes were joined to 4 Wiltipoll rams. Harry and Jill held their first On-Farm Sale of Wiltipoll Ewes and Rams in February 2006. They have always maintained a very strict culling process for sheep that did not shed properly and apply great emphasis on carcase weight.
The Australian Wiltipoll Association Inc was established in 1996 and the first AGM of the Association was held at Wayville, South Australia in March 1997. The Association established requirements for registration of Wiltipoll sheep; i.e. that the sheep must have no less than 96.87% Wiltshire Horn blood, it must be polled and must totally shed its fleece annually. To achieve the required percentage of Wiltshire Horn blood, a ewe of a polled breed must be first crossed with a pure-bred Wiltshire Horn ram and then back-crossed successively for four generations. The absence of horn in the Wiltipoll breed has resulted in rams being less aggressive and easier to handle. There is less risk of accident in the paddock, such as rams being caught in fences or locked together and less bruising of the carcase.
Demand and Availability
Since the launch of the Wiltipoll breed in 1997, demand for stock has increased steadily each year, but with the continuing decline of the Wool Industry in 1998 and 1999, demand has increased dramatically and is now coming from pastoral as well as farming country. The Wiltipoll is becoming an alternative terminal sire for the production of prime lamb in pastoral country as it thrives on rough scrubby feed and does not have the maintenance costs of a woolled prime lamb sire.
Many people are showing continued interest, including Merino breeders due to the price of wool continuing to decline, organic producers, olive and grape growers who want animals for grazing under their crops, but don’t have the infrastructure for sheep and people who only want a handful of sheep, but can’t get shearers to come and shear them. Ageing farmers are also curious, because they are keen to continue their involvement in the sheep industry free from the physical pressure of intensive husbandry.
Wiltipolls are a keenly sought after breed and are adaptable to most Australian and New Zealand conditions, including arable, pastoral, tropical and high rainfall areas. Absentee and small landholders are finding the fleece-shedding Wiltipoll irresistible. They are an ideal breed for small producers and also commercially viable on a larger scale. Wiltipoll sheep are not crawlers and will readily remain in their allocated paddock, also knowing the hornless sheep are not stuck in fences or fly-blown is an added bonus.
At 12 months of age, ewes can weigh over 60kgs and rams over 70kgs. Fully grown rams can reach 120kgs and ewes 90kgs, but the average ram is 100-110kgs and the average ewe about 70-80kgs. This weight is achieved with little fat being laid down. There are now Wiltipoll breeders in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australian and Queensland and information about the location of breeders is available from the Australian Wiltipoll Inc – The President "Martindale" PO Box 620, Strathalbyn SA 5255
The Wiltipoll is a seasonal breeder with ewes normally coming into season around March and lambs being born in spring. Ewes do not cycle during summer months, eliminating the need for ram paddocks or extra handling. Lambing percentages are normally 150% and can achieve better in a good season. Due to low birth weights, the ewes lamb easily, milk abundantly and have vigorous lambs with a high percentage of multiple births.
Ewes may be joined in their first year (6 or 7 months of age), but the success of this will depend upon the maturity and condition of the ewe at joining. The first pregnancy at either 6 or 18 months will commonly result in a singleton lamb, but subsequent pregnancies will almost inevitably be of twins, while triplets are common. Better feed will result in higher multiple births, but twins come consistently from older ewes even on poor pasture. Rams will breed all year round and can be crossed with other sheep breeds to produce a prime lamb.
Wiltipoll lambs are born with both a wool coat and hair undercoat. The wool coat typically reaches only halfway down the flanks and chest (belly and crutch are usually entirely clear of wool). Lambs will start to molt wool in about November. They lose some proportion (perhaps all) of their wool, depending upon date of birth, warmth of the summer, nutrition and genetic factors. Wool grows back in autumn, covering the hairy summer coat and from then on the sheep will lose and gain wool regularly each spring and autumn. The ‘summer’ coat, is actually present throughout the year, but in winter is covered by the wool. The amount and quality of the wool varies considerably, also depending on climate, nutrition and genetic factors. It is always relatively short and coarse and is of no commercial value.
The Wiltipoll is extremely suited for crossing with other sheep breeds to produce prime lamb. Presently it appears that the market niche for the 1st and 2nd cross lamb is heavy export lamb, as these lambs can achieve heavy weights without developing fat as do other British breeds.
The continuing development of the Wiltipoll involves breeding objectives which are; the retention and improvement of the wool shedding characteristic; the retention of black hooves, black nose, the black pigmentation around the eyes and the gradual elimination of black body spots. Breeders are also selectively breeding for superior carcass qualities and to eliminate any scur.
The Wiltipoll breed is now well established in Australia having been established since 1996. Future developments will relate to commercial sales of prime Wiltipoll cross lambs resulting in a continuing increase in the demand for Wiltipoll rams. There has been recent inquiry from lamb feedlotters, interested in the easy care aspect of the Wiltipoll as well as the ability to achieve heavy weights with less fat. More recent inquiry has been received from international importers of lamb looking for chemical free meat. The Wiltipoll is perfectly positioned to take advantage of all of these market requirements.