Letter to HRH Prince of Wales
06 December 2013
To His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales,
Clarence House, London, SW1A 1AA
Re: EasyCare Sheep
Recently reported in Hello magazine:
Prince Charles – a Vision of the Future: “When I heard the ultimate horror of all, that they’d created a new sheep called Easy Care, which you don’t have to shear, I thought, ‘Enough!’”.
This comes on top of your “campaign for wool” film featured on You-tube in which you said, “The ultimate insanity is a new breed of sheep that doesn’t need shearing called, can you believe it, Easy Care”.
While wishing you every success in your “campaign for wool”, I am writing to ask you to reconsider your views on Easy Care sheep because I believe you have been misinformed. As you are aware, the unprofitability of wool is causing farmers to reduce their flock size or to go out of sheep rearing altogether. To keep sheep breeding profitable, over the last fifty years I have developed the Easy Care breed.
It is based on a very old English breed, the Wiltshire Horn, which does not grow wool and naturally sheds its winter coat without shearing. Easy Care are, in essence, polled Wiltshires. Sheep originally had kempy hair coats, not heavy wool coats, until people interfered.
The Easy Care sheep live outside on grass and need no extra feed, bred for easy lambing they lamb outside as nature intended which means less stress. The fact that Easy Care need minimal shepherding means that many farmers, who otherwise would have given up their flocks, have been enabled to continue sheep farming and make a profit. This is not insanity but good business sense and good animal husbandry.
They are ideally suited to organic farming, need no organo-phosphorous dipping, and as they are out all the time are less susceptible to tuberculosis and other infections aggravated by over-crowding in sheds. Because they don’t waste protein growing unprofitable wool they produce more milk and more lambs.
Also they are spared the very many welfare problems associated with wool that cause untold stress and require much more intensive, expensive shepherding.
From the sheep’s point of view the ultimate horror is wool.
In the 19th century cattle breeders began to specialise in either beef or dairy and sheep breeders concentrated on unnatural heavy fleeces. Modern sheep breeders are now specialising in single purpose meat sheep to make a living. Before wool breeding can become profitable again, the cost of shepherding and shearing and feed supplements will have to come down.
Naturally-shedding hair sheep are increasing in popularity exponentially world wide, for example Wiltipoll in Australia, Katahdin in North America, Nolana in Europe: I have twice been invited to speak at the European Hair-Sheep Conference in Osnabruck. Easy Care sheep are in France, Holland, Germany and I have recently exported some to Lithuania.
Naturally-shedding sheep pre-date woolly sheep by hundreds of years and will be popular for years to come. As you say, wool is a fine and useful product but it is very labour-intensive and very stressful for the sheep.
The Easy Care single purpose meat sheep makes good commercial sense and will continue to proliferate - the alternative for most, at least at present, is no sheep - because farmers have to make a living.
I am very proud of my life’s work: I hope you will review the evidence and re-evaluate your opinion of the Easy Care breed.
R.I.Owen, M.B.E., F.R.Ag.S. N Sch