7 Jun 2024

Of all sheep and sizes

From Country Life, 7:20 pm on 7 June 2024
Brian Hales had an open-door policy on his farm for people to experience rural life.
HBG 01Apr24 - 
HBG 04Apr24 - Brian Hales had an open-door policy on his farm for people to experience rural life.

HBG 08Apr24 - Brian Hales had an open-door policy on his farm for people to experience rural life.

Brian Hales had an open-door policy on his farm for people to experience rural life. Photo: Michaela Gower / Hawke's Bay Today

It started in Kazakhstan, where Brian Hales' brother Nigel was managing a wool scour that largely dealt with Karakul sheep.

The rare desert-dwelling sheep fascinated Brian who was looking for something to give him "a bit more inspiration", having been on the family farm in Wimbledon in Tararua District for close to 40 years.

From six Karakul sheep, his collection of rare and exotic sheep breeds has grown massively over the past 15 years. However, much of the farm has since sold into forestry and along with it, many of his sheep have also had to find new homes.

"It became a bit of a fascination," Brian said. "It was like collecting stamps. It went on and on."

From breeds unique to Aotearoa like the rare Arapawa sheep found on an island in the Marlborough Sounds to Swedish Gotlands, at its peak, his flock numbered about 300 sheep comprised of up to 20 different breeds. This was in addition to his commercial flock of 1200 Romney ewes and about 100 cows.

Arapawa Island sheep. Photo:

A sale was recently held in Dannevirke, where he sold about 70 sheep, including Arapawa, Valais Blacknose, David Tuart Stewart Island, Campbell Island, Mohaka, Hokonui, Pitt Island, Herbert, Jacob, Gotland, and Horned Dorset breeds. He was confident that had each found "good homes".

Brian will keep a few sheep on the remaining 120 acres of land, including a flock from a fellow collector who had entrusted them to him.

New Zealand's sheep population has dropped in recent years, in part as farmland has been sold and converted to forestry. 

According to StatsNZ, from 2011 to 2023, the total area in grassland (excluding tussock) fell by 12 percent (942,000ha), the total number of total sheep fell by 22 percent (6.8 million), and the total number of beef cattle fell by 5 percent (192,000ha).

During this time the area in pine and other exotic forest (excluding native forest) increased by 11 percent (179,000ha).

The Gotland breed has a brown-coloured fleece and is named after the Swedish island of Gotland

Gotland sheep. Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

Brian said there was much people could learn from the different breeds, with their popularity and prevalence tied to the economic market conditions and needs of the day.

Asked if he had a favourite, he answered with the sheep that started it all: the Karakul.

"The Karakul is a brilliant sheep ... certainly a versatile animal," he said. 

Their wool can be used to make clothing and tents, with offcuts used to stuff the saddles of the nomadic horse-riding people of the steppes. Karakuls are also bred for their meat and milk.

"It's the oldest breed of sheep known to man."

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