Super-sized sheep getting 'too big to shear'

A sheep bearing some 40kg of fleece after going on a walk lasting years. It was finally shorn in Canberra last year. Livestock specialist Phil Graham said the weight of mature ewes in Australia has risen by 15kg between 1990 and 2010.
A sheep bearing some 40kg of fleece after going on a walk lasting years. It was finally shorn in Canberra last year. Livestock specialist Phil Graham said the weight of mature ewes in Australia has risen by 15kg between 1990 and 2010.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

SYDNEY • Australia's sheep are getting too big for their shearers to handle, an Australian livestock specialist has warned.

Generations of selective sheep breeding have produced supersized sheep and the industry could soon see a day where it would be unsafe for shearers to manage sheep by hand, The Guardian Australia reported on Thursday.

Mr Phil Graham, who works with the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, said the industry was seeing a trend of heftier sheep because it had, in the past 20 years, favoured producing dual-purpose cross-breeds which can produce a full fleece of wool and also be sold for meat.

Australian farms typically prefer the smaller merino breed that produces high-quality wool. Merino ewes can weigh up to 80kg with a full fleece and 50kg when shorn.

Mr Graham said that he has seen the weight of mature ewes in Australia - both cross-breeds and merinos - rising by 15kg between 1990 and 2010.

He said farmers are finding it increasingly difficult to handle the heftier sheep and run the risk of health problems, such as knee and joint strains, from the weight of handling them.

But Melbourne University sheep expert Frank Dunshea said the bigger sheep were not a cause for concern, noting that the recent attention was due to rising awareness about occupational health hazards.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2016, with the headline 'Super-sized sheep getting 'too big to shear''. Print Edition | Subscribe