Sheep Breeds in Australia

Reproduced from Australian Encyclopaedia, circa 1950

The demand for a dual- purpose sheep was responsible for the developing in Australia and New Zealand of two important breeds—the Corriedale and the Polwarth.

Corriedale and Polwarth

The Corriedale was first established in New Zealand and later was further evolved in Australia for Australian conditions. The Corriedale is essentially a farmer’s sheep, combining a high standard of mutton with a good class of wool of about 58s count. Numerous exportations of the breed have been made to South America and elsewhere.

The Polwarth, although less numerous than the Corriedale, is important in the sheep industry of Australia. It originated in Victoria in the 1880s but it was not given its name officially until nearly 40 years later. It produces a good type of wool of about 58s count and is particularly suitable for localities which are too cold and wet for Merinos.


An Australian-bred sheep, known as the Zenith, came into some prominence in the 1950s. It was bred from the Merino-Lincoln cross and it was claimed that the type had been fixed in 1947.

The Zenith aims to be a sheep of robust constitution, with a large frame, carrying a dense fleece of 60- 64s quality, at times running to 58s. Of recent years considerable interest has been shown in polled Merino rams, and although the general standard of the hornless sheep is below that of the horned ones, it is improving. Boonoke, one of the oldest Peppin flocks, is one of the leading studs breeding polled Merino rams.

British Breeds

While the Merino is the preeminent sheep in Australia and forms the greater part of its flocks there are throughout the country many first-class studs of the main British breeds of sheep.

These breeds are of importance not so much for their usefulness in the pure state, as for mating with the Merino, or with crossbreeds from Merino-British breed stock, for use in agricultural districts, or for fat-lamb production. Many districts in Australia are suitable for the production of crossbred sheep, both the lambs and wool of which command worthwhile prices. Pasture improvement, including the top-dressing of natural pasture and the sowing of grasses and clovers, has considerably extended the areas where crossbred sheep may be run.

Records do not give accurate information of the early importations of British breeds, but they certainly Were made while the industry was still in its infancy.

Samuel Marsden, in a letter to Sir Joseph Banks in January 1805, mentions the presence of Southdown and Teeswater sheep in Australia and expresses the opinion that Leicesters and Lincolns would improve the sheep in the country.

The Van Diemen’s Land Company imported Cotswolds in 1826 and Leicesters in 1830, in addition to Merinos. Shipments to Australia continued in the following years and the stock return for New South Wales for 1869 showed 60,000 coarse-wool sheep, including 5000 pure Leicesters and Cotswolds and 2500 pure Downs breeds.

The development of the frozen-mutton trade following the first trial shipment in 1879 encouraged the cross-breeding of English breeds with the Merino because the latter was found to be unsuitable for export mutton.

In the 1950s the English breeds represented in Australia were (in order of importance) Border Leicester, Romney Marsh, Dorset Horn, Southdown, Ryeland, English Leicester, Suffolk, Lincoln, Shropshire. In 1951 it was announced that Wiltshire sheep were to be imported for the first time into Australia.

Breeds, Types, and Distribution

In the early 1950s almost 74 per cent of Australian sheep were Merinos.

The highest proportion was in Queensland, where more than 98 per cent of the State’s sheep were Merino, followed by Western Australia (90 per cent), South Australia (84 per cent), New South Wales (76 per cent), Victoria (39 per cent), and Tasmania (12 per cent).

Polwarths and Corriedales were numerous in Tasmania, representing 20 per cent and 19 per cent respectively of the State’s total, and Corriedales were popular in Victoria. Crossbreds and comehacks accounted for 43 per cent in Tasmania, 37 per cent in Victoria, 18 per cent in New South Wales, 9 per cent in South Australia, 6 per cent in Western Australia and less than 2 per cent in Queensland.

The distribution of sheep in Australia shows most intense concentrations occur in eastern Riverina, in New England, and on the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range in New South Wales, and in the Western and Central districts of Victoria.

Large flocks in less-concentrated form are found on the inland plains of New South Wales and Queensland and, in a lesser degree, in parts of South Australia and Western Australia. Numerous sheep in small flocks are pastured in the southern parts of Victoria and in the south-west of Western Australia. Some sheep are kept in the Kimberleys, W.A., a few in the northern area of South Australia, and in the Northern Territory

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