The Corriedale breed was developed in New Zealand beginning in the 1880s on the Corriedale Estate of South Island. James Little, the estate manager, was previously from Scotland, where he had gained years of experience in rearing sheep. He arrived in New Zealand in 1866 with a boatload of his employer’s Romney sheep, which quickly proved themselves unsuited to the relatively sparse and low-quality forage of Corriedale Estate. These same sheep, however, produced remarkable lambs when crossed with Merinos.
By the 1870s, Little was starting his own sheep farm. He purchased Lincoln rams and crossed them with the Merino ewes that had performed so well for him previously. Little then set out to develop a better dual-purpose breed that would be ideally suited for conditions in New Zealand, naming his new breed after the Corriedale Estate where he had gained such valuable experience in crossbreeding sheep for New Zealand conditions.
Over the next few decades, Little had an uphill battle to convince his fellow sheep breeders that Corriedales could outperform the famous Merino. However, when his sheep consistently produced quality meat and fleece time and time again, the sheepmen took note. Newspapers began to proclaim the Corriedale as “New Zealand’s Own Sheep.”
While Little provided the vision, the promotion, and much of the foundation stock of the new breed, other sheepmen in New Zealand and later Australia contributed, as well. Some of these breeders may have introduced Romney and Border Leicester influence in the 1880s.
In 1914, the USDA became interested in identifying and importing true dual-purpose sheep breeds. Accordingly, it sent out Professor F.R. Marshall of the Bureau of Animal Husbandry and Frank S. King of the National Wool Growers Association on a trip around the world to locate such a sheep. That same year, the two men found what they were seeking in New Zealand. They sent 65 ewes and 10 rams of the Corriedale breed to the government experiment station in Wyoming.
The Corriedale quickly proved its ability to range sheep growers. At about the same time, World War I increased the demand for meat. Many heritage sheep breeds began to decline in numbers due to their low output, but the high-producing Corriedale only gained in popularity, not only in America but across the world.
Today, the Corriedale still has a strong following and is one of the most common sheep breeds in the world, with an estimated global population of just over 5 million.
This is a dual-purpose sheep breed, suitable for wool or meat production. It is adaptable to most production systems.
The Corriedale is known for its remarkably uniform fleece. Even though its wool comes only in white, it is in high demand with hand spinners due to its many good qualities, including its beautiful luster. Corriedale fleece is particularly easy to work with and does not require carding. However, it is moderately coarse, making it best for hats, gloves, outerwear, rugs, and the like. Corriedale fiber is also ideal for felting.
As a meat breed, the Corriedale was traditionally used for crossbred lamb production. In more recent years, it has also been demonstrating prowess in the purebred lamb realm. This breed finishes well on grass alone.
Lambs are sometimes used for pelts.
The Corriedale is a docile breed. It has sound mothering instincts, as well as a strong flocking instinct.
Most Corriedale sheep start life hale and hearty, and they stay that way throughout their lives.
The Corriedale is somewhat susceptible to foot rot, but the disease appears to respond very well to selective breeding and can thus be eradicated fairly easily.
A number of genetic defects have been reported in this breed:
- Black liver disease.
- A hereditary form of rickets.
- Hereditary goiter and insufficient thyroid hormone production.
- Atrophy of the cerebellum of the brain.
Keep in mind, however, that a few genetic defects are to be expected in such a numerous breed. The prevalence of these defects across the population appears to be reasonably low.
- Natural hornlessness.
- Tight flocking instinct.
- Adaptability to most production systems.
- Adaptability to many climates.
- Efficient feed conversion.
- Fairly early maturity.
- High fertility.
- Moderately prolific tendencies.
- Mothering ability.
- Durable, lustrous wool that is easy to spin.
- High wool yield.
- Fast growth.
- Lean, tender carcass.
- High pelt value.
- Smaller carcass than some commercial crosses.