'Old-fashioned' sheep earn their keep

By David Hill

Jag the dog enjoys helping Rachel Foster with feeding her Finn sheep. Photo / David Hill
Jag the dog enjoys helping Rachel Foster with feeding her Finn sheep. Photo / David Hill

Rare breeds are a labour of love for North Canterbury lifestyle farmer Rachel Foster.

Mrs Foster has a small collection of rare birds and animals on a 4ha lifestyle block at Fernside, near Rangiora, including Zebu cattle, Finn and Damara sheep, Orpington fowl and Cape Barren geese.

''My husband would probably call me a collector as I like to have a bit of variety.''

She said she originally wanted to breed bucking bulls for rodeos, but soon realised it was unrealistic on a 4ha block, so she opted for the miniature-sized Zebu cattle, which were naturally small and originated on small islands off the coast of India.

She has a pure-bred bull, named Nero, and two half-bred cows, each with calf at foot.

Mrs Foster has been breeding Finn sheep for eight years and recently added two Damara sheep to her flock.

She said she was attracted to the Finn sheep by their short tails which did not require docking and the Finn ewes lambed at 300% or more.

''They have litters rather than single lambs, so we've had quintuplets and even sextuplets.''

The Finn sheep wool was ideal for spinning and crafts, while the Damara sheep had ''hair rather than fleece'' so did not need to be shorn, making them an ideal lifestyle sheep, Mrs Foster said.

As the Damara was originally from Africa the sheep were used to ''rough conditions'' and ate almost anything, including willows and rougher pastures.

''I like the old-fashioned or original kind of breeds which haven't had any interference from humans,'' Mrs Foster said.

She said her Finn sheep were starting to ''earn their keep'' as she was able to sell the rams to lifestylers and farmers wanting a ram for ''easy lambing''.

It would take another couple of years before the Zebu cattle paid their way, but the bull calves were finding their way to the freezer for now, she said.

A pair of Cape Barren geese, a breed originally from Australia, has been added to Mrs Foster's collection having been ''retired'' from Willowbank Wildlife Reserve.

Mrs Foster is helping to organise the Canterbury Rare Breeds Society's annual auction, at the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve on Sunday.

She said 230 birds and animals had been entered in the auction. While it comprised mostly poultry, pheasants, geese and pigeons, there would be plenty of rare sheep and some cattle up for sale.

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- Otago Daily Times

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