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Wiltshire Horns have high fertility, good mothering, large frames often with long bodies, good muscling, lean meat, intelligence, ability to do relatively well in poor conditions, horns in both rams and ewes, and wool that is naturally shed in Spring.

 

All of those features make them suitable for many different enterprises. They are very popular with small farmers. People often come to Wiltshires because the shedding means that you don't need to find shearers for a small flock, but then they stay with them when they discover all of the other breed features that make them ideal for the family farm.

 

The Wiltshire Horn breed of sheep has recovered from a time when it was on the Australian endangered list with only a small flock surviving in WA, to a point now where they are more abundant and successful than the parent breed in Britain. They are one of the most abundant British sheep Breeds in Australia.

 

Their success has been the result of a lot of hard work by dedicated breeders. It is one of those breeds that people seem to instantly fall in love with and then promote so that other people can come to appreciate them. Not only are they a unique breed with many interesting and unusual features, and a long history, but individual Wiltshires all look different and have different personalities so that you can get to know them as individual animals, not just as a flock.

 

Wiltshires are in demand for commercial use Australia wide. The rams are used as 'terminal sire' crossed with first cross or merino ewes to produce prime lambs. Some small farmers also do this to produce lambs for their own use.

 

Other commercial operators have used them as a 'maternal sire', that is to produce first cross WiltshirexMerino ewes which can in turn be joined with a ram from another breed to produce prime lambs. In both cases the fact that Wiltshires are an old breed, and genetically very distinct, means that there is considerable hybrid vigour in the lambs.

 

More recently farmers have realised that, if you backcross these Wiltshire cross ewes to a Wiltshire ram, after a couple of generations you can produce a ewe flock which sheds well, is fertile and good mothering. Such a commercial ewe flock has the advantage that management costs, and the need for extra staff, are greatly reduced.

 

Not only don't you have to shear Wiltshires but you also don't need to crutch or mules them or dip them or spray them for lice or flies. So there is no income from wool, but much lower costs giving better profits. This lack of treatment of the skin and wool, and the fact that it is now possible to breed for worm resistance and therefore no need to drench, means that Wiltshires can be used as a highly profitable second enterprise in an organic enterprise such as fruit trees, olives or grapes. The sheep can be used to keep the grass down naturally between trees, without affecting the organic status of the farm, and at the same time produce organic lamb.

 

Many Wiltshire breeders are now in LambPlan so that they can accurately describe the genetic characteristics of their animals. This means that you can specify the kind of animals most suited for each operation. If you were just running a terminal lamb operation for example, you would be most interested in rams that had genes for fast growth, good muscling, and low fat. However if you are looking at a maternal sire, or in producing Wiltshire cross ewes for a self-replacing flock, while those characteristics would remain of some importance, you would be much more concerned in also looking at the genetics of maternal performance and ease of lambing, of fertility, of worm resistance and of shedding.

 

For the small family farm or organic operation all of those maternal characteristics would also be very important. You would also need to take account of the temperament of particular individuals. Like all animals, Wiltshires vary in temperament, and if you have a very small farm you should talk to the breeder about getting rams that are calm and easy going and are relaxed around people. For a big commercial breeder these characteristics would be less important.

 

Wiltshire Horns are a very old breed. They may have originated in the Mediterranean as one of the original sheep varieties and been domesticated by the Romans. What is certain though is that their history in Britain extends back at least 250 years. They were one of the old British Breeds, and were once probably the most numerous. They were allowed to roam free, covering huge distances over tough hill country, and this background has given them considerable resilience. In recent years in Australia the wonderful characteristics of the breed have been improved even further by some clever breeding, and they are now very much a multi-purpose and very valuable breed of sheep.