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STATUS
New Zealand: Rare
Origin: Feral

Arapawa Sheep

A Rare Breed of New Zealand Origin

Arapawa ram (Photo by Gail Simons)
Arapawa ram
(Photo by Gail Simons)

      Historical records suggest that sheep have been known on Arapawa Island in the Marlborough Sounds for at least 130 years.

      The most probable origin for the Arapawa feral sheep is that they are escapees of a flock of mainly Merino origin known to have been introduced in 1867, the original stock having undoubtedly come from Australia. But it is not impossible that they were introduced earlier by the whalers who were the first European occupants of the Island.

      To those unused to their distinctive appearance, Arapawa sheep may at first acquaintance seem ungainly or even ugly, with their somewhat hunched appearance and often ragged fleece. Certainly they bear little resemblance to their more immediate Merino ancestors and even less to the Merinos familiar to us all today.

Arapawa ewes in North Canterbury (Trotter/McCulloch photo)
Arapawa ewes in North Canterbury
(Trotter/McCulloch photo)

      Arapawas are not large sheep, being rather lean and light-boned. The clear narrow face and head, with alert bright eyes, is set on a long neck and topped with slender ears. Rams may have spiralled horns which can be over a metre in length. Their light build, together with their rather long legs, makes them a very active sheep as befits animals which had to survive for more than a century in very steep and hostile terrain – not infrequently invaded by equally hostile human hunters.

      In repose Arapawas carry their heads rather low, and it is this tendency coupled with low-set long tails, which gives them a hunched look.

      Their most common colouring is all black – with a depth of blackness which is particularly striking in the lambs – but Arapawas may often have white points, and on very rare occasions be pure white. The most strikingly coloured are those which are spotted with white over the whole body, and which are often referred to as 'cocktail' Arapawas.

Arapawa rams (Trotter/McCulloch photo)
Arapawa rams in Canterbury
(Trotter/McCulloch photo)

      The fleece of the Arapawa is of Merino-like fineness and is of particularly high bulk which makes it of interest to textile manufacturers; it also makes excellent waterproof felts for head and footwear. It has, as well, great insulating properties – important for a sheep in the wild. However, individual fleece weights are considerably less than those found in commercial wool breeds, although the natural tendency for the fleece to be shed, which occurs in most wild sheep, is not so marked under farm conditions. Feral sheep are also naturally more resistant to fly-strike, and at AgResearch Lincoln in Canterbury, research is currently underway to introduce this characteristic of the Arapawa into a new "no-fuss" sheep breed.

      Arapawa meat is fine-grained, sweet, lean, and with a special 'gamey' flavour much sought by restaurateurs. If you want to own some distinctively New Zealand sheep you could not do better than to run your own flock of Arapawas.

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   See also:
» Arapawa Sheep Breed Description
» About Feral Sheep
» Feral Breeds statement
» Arapawa Wildlife Sanctuary
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