The Shropshire's ancestry, like many other breeds is clouded but in its primitive state it was considered a heath-land breed, able to survive and produce fine wool on poor nutrition.
Like numerous other breeds it was between about 1800 and 1840 infused with both Leicester and Southdown genes. This resulted in the Shropshire becoming, by around 1850, the biggest down-type sheep in England with the most wool.
Its official recognition as a breed came in 1860 when classes exclusively for Shropshires were listed at the Royal Show. By now fleece weight had increased from the 2 pounds on the primitive sheep to 7 or 8 pounds, and carcass weight had doubled. It was declared "the best of the modern breeds" and attracted a huge following. A breed society, one of the first, was formed in 1882 and in the following year their flock book was the first such publication for a sheep breed in England.
By 1890 Shropshires were being sent to several European countries. North and South America, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.
Arrival in Australia
Because the Shropshire has been declined for more than two generations it is now difficult to appreciate the impact and the benefits which it brought to Australia's expanding meat industry one hundred years ago.
The importations of Charles Price to South Australia in 1855 were probably the first. Boulton Bros. brought some to New South Wales shortly after, those for Robert Russell of Bendigo, Victoria arrived in 1865 and for George Wilson of Jericho, Tasmania in 1872.
It was in Tasmania in the 1890's that the fires of enthusiasm for Shropshires were really fuelled. Tasmanian breeders sent sheep to shows and sales all around the eastern seaboard of Australia and their successes led to unbridled euphoria. One, Andrew Mansell, advertised himself as being The World's Leading Ram Breeder. Three leading Shropshire breeders migrated to that State from Britain, bringing their elite flocks with them. However. Thomas Burbury, a Tasmanian farmer, was probably the most successful breeder in Australia.
Shropshire Breed Societies were formed in both South Australia and Tasmania in the mid 1890's. They each published a Flock Book but later amalgamated. Eleven hundred Shropshires were imported in one year and in 1903 600 Shropshires were sold at the Royal Melbourne Show Sales.
The Shropshire boom coincided with the greatest expansion Australia's sheep meat industry has seen. Prior to 1900 only about 20,000 lamb carcasses left Australia each year. Ten years later there were several millions, 70% of them sired by Shropshires.
From about 1920 the breed went into sharp decline. It was a period of economic depression and the housewives of Europe only wanted small Joints. The Shropshire was too big and it was found that the smaller carcasses sired by Southdowns were more marketable.
Description of a Shropshire Sheep
Head: Well developed and covered with dense wool to the forehead, with little or none on the face (an open face preferred). Broad between the ears, short muzzle. No signs of horns.
Face: Soft black colour, with a few grey hairs on the nose not objectionable.
Eyes: Full medium sized and bright, showing clear of wool.
Ears: Somewhat short and thick
Neck: Wide at the base, strong and well set into the shoulders, throat clean.
Shoulders: Well set and top level with the back. No depression behind blades.
Back: Straight. Wide over the loins, covered with firm flesh.
Hind Quarters: Square and showing good width from loin to tail, good full fleshy leg, broad tail well set on, almost level with the back.
Legs and Feet: Legs short and of a soft, black colour with strong bone, showing covering of short wool well down below, fairly straight hocks. legs well set on and wide apart.
Skin: Of a healthy bright pink, not inclined to blue.
Flesh: Even and firm handling all over
Carriage: Bold and free
Fleece: Dense, of medium strength and staple, showing plenty of character, with no black hairs. No black hair or black wool behind ears. Suggested wool count 56s - 68s.
Prime lamb sire
Down type used for hosiery and hand knitting yarn
Number of registered flocks in Australia
Number of registered ewes joined in 2008
For more information on Shropshire sheep
Marilyn Mangione email@example.com
Heritage Sheep Australia
11 Mona Place
South Yarra, Victoria 3141
Phone: 03 9820 4172