Watch NZH Local Focus: Tararua farmers try to 'save the sheep'

Kaysha Brownlie

Sheep don't usually come into conversations about endangered species but exotic breed experts say they should.

Some of the older, more traditional breeds of sheep are now considered under threat.

Brian Hales hosts New Zealand's largest free, on-farm event at Wimbledon Farm, in Tararua District, showcasing these exotic and feral breeds.

"What needs to be built up is the pureness and the originality of the flock that's the thing that has to be protected," Mr Hales says.

But synthetic materials and cheap international trade have done some sheep out of a job.

Rare Breeds Conservation Society of New Zealand president John Earney says Drysdale sheep, whose wool was used for carpets, became unpopular almost overnight when the wool prices dropped.

"These sheep that we're looking at today desperately need protecting. The genetics are so important for New Zealand."

It's an area of conservation that exotic breed experts say is currently overlooked.

"When you talk about conservation, most people instantly think about Kiwi or a Tui or something like that, but what we are talking about here are animals that have served humans, fed and clothed humans for hundreds of years."

But the government sees it differently and on some islands the sheep are actively eradicated to stop them damaging the native flora.

South Island breeder Michael Willis says: "Livestock breed conservation is just as important as species conservation which is saving kiwis and so on....but many of these breeds here are even more endangered than the Kakapo."

A Federated Farmers spokesman says some breeds are no longer commercially viable, and if farmers want to revive them they must ensure they're properly managed within an appropriate environment.

- NZ Herald

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