The Wiltshire Horn Advantage
Wiltshire Horns have many features that make them suitable and a popular choice for many different enterprises: 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 are all characteristics that draw people to this breed.
Wiltshire Horns are very popular with small farmers. As a shedding sheep, the hassle (and cost) of finding a shearer for a small flock is eliminated. Crutching, mulesing, dipping or treating for lice or fly strike are also not necessary. The ‘easy care’ of this breed is one of the key features that excites people at first. But, as they learn more about these sheep, they discover all of the other breed features that make them ideal for the family farm.
Wiltshires Horns are also 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.
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.
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.
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