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Woolgrower comments on ‘freak’ sheep
Published: 29 July 2006 (GMT+10)
Our article ‘No flies on freak sheep’ prompted this response by a woolgrower. As he explains, he is more inclined to the view that the baldness is not a recent mutation, but simply explained in terms of existing genetic variation within the current Australian sheep population. And he agrees that it is NOT evolution. Here is his letter:
Thank you for the information that you send. I value the examination and review of the many current topics that you do and being able to have access to that information.
The mulesing of sheep is certainly a topic with high media interest in the rural areas of Australia because of the controversy caused by animal ‘liberationists’ in the USA and their desire to damage the markets for Australian wool products.
I have read your article titled ‘no flies on freak sheep’ (may 2006), and have followed the sheep in question with interest, as I am a woolgrower myself. The use of the term ‘mutation’ to describe the bare breech is, I suspect, a mis-application of the term. My opinion of the ‘bare breech’ feature is that it occurs within the existing gene pool of the merino sheep population in Australia. This feature has not been selected for in the past, possibly because of the potential connection with reduced wool production on other areas of the sheep’s body.
I suspect that the gene for ‘bare breech’ could be found in many Australian merino flocks, though in only small numbers of sheep within those flocks. In my own flock I have a number of sheep with varying degrees of ‘bareness’ in the crutch area, some being similar to the much publicised sheep in the media.
The impact of the sheep given much attention and publicity is that they occur in a ‘stud’ flock. Stud sheep are the highest quality seed-stock for the commercial sheep flock in Australia. Reproducing from these sheep being focused on will enable the bare breech feature to be replicated, without compromise to the wool producing potential of the merino sheep flock in Australia.
This will be of great benefit to the industry and will also appease those with concerns for the ‘rights’ of animals as well. I do not think that it will give any consolation though to those who want to promote an evolutionary perspective, as I believe that it is all explained within the normal process of genetic variation.
Ian Blight (South Australia)
Thank you very much for this feedback.