Origins Of The Breed
The Finnsheep is a breed of Northern European origin. The first importations of Finn genetics occurred in the mid 1980’s, when the University of New South Wales imported semen from the North American rams. This semen was used to upgrade the Finns, largely from Border Leicester and Merino ewes. Progeny from this breeding program are still available. However, the base Australian flock largely descends from the original importation made by Lamb XL into New Zealand in 1986. The animals were selected from 13 different flocks in Finland and Denmark to ensure the widest genetic sample possible.
After 7 years of intensive breeding during the quarantine period, purebred offspring of these animals were released to the Australian sheep industry in March 1993.
The importation took advantage of more than 20 years of genetic selection for growth made in Finland. It also ensured the stock available for the Australian release were from only the top performers within the very intense genetic evaluation undertaken in NZ from 1986 to 1993.
From 760 Finns in the Lamb XL flock only the top 114 ewes were selected, which included 72 ewes with superior genetics from the 1992 drop. In the male side only the top 14 were brought to Australia.
More about the breed…
Improved profitability is the key to survival and growth in today’s business world. Within the agricultural sector, particularly the sheep industry, the pressure on farmland by other livestock systems makes this more essential than ever before. Only too often, prime lamb producers have not paid sufficient attention to the productivity of the ewe flock.
The Finnsheep (finnish landrace) breed is renowned worldwide for its productivity as a purebred or crossbred ewe. The increased productivity is a result of the Finn’s high levels of fertility and fecundity, the resultant heterosis, in addition to its inherent leanness and strong maternal traits.
The ability of Finn purebred to transmit its productive traits to Finn cross progeny is remarkable. Initial South Australian trials of Merino/Finn cross ewes mated to a Texel sire produced these greatly desired results:
- 180% lambing
- 160% weaning
- At 14 weeks, lamb average 37.7kg –or–
- 60.36 kg lamb weight produced / ewe.
So for each 1.00kg ewe body weight / 0.99kg lamb weight achieved at weaning (14 weeks)
High Fertility and Fecundity
A Finn ram averages 20-30% more sperm per ejaculate, and more viable ejaculates per day, in comparison to other breeds. This translates to Finn rams having one of the highest servicing capacities, allowing an adult Finn ram to service a ewe mob of up to 120 ewes in a 65 day breeding period. Yearling Finn and Finn-cross ewes achieve very high fertility (ie. ewes pregnant compared to ewes exposed to rams). The superiority in fertility is normally maintained throughout the lifetime of both the ram and the ewe.
In her book, Raising Sheep the Modern Way (United Kingdom), Paula Simmons describes Finnsheep as valuable for crossbreeding to introduce its unusual prolificacy, being called the sheep that “lambs in litters”.
Finns are one of the most fecund breeds of sheep in the world. The pure Finn achieves lambing percentages 260% (number of lambs born per ewe lambing = 2.6 lambs).
In general a ewe’s lambing rate should equal the average of both parental breeds.
For example, merino ewes averaging 90% lambing mated to Finn rams of 260% lambing rate, should create Finn x Merino cross ewes achieving 175% lambing as adults.
(ie. 90% + 260% = 360% / 2 = 175%)
Originating in Finland, the Australian Finnsheep has unique body fat distribution. While most sheep breeds have 40-60% body fat within the subcutaneous layer, Finns have only 27-31% subcutaneous body fat. Finns have the majority internally around as kidney and channel fat, which does not affect or degrade carcass quality. Due to this remarkable attribute, Finns and their crosses can be grown on to heavier carcass weights without fat penalties.
It is worth noting that the 2004 National Record Price Prime Lamb at Bendigo was a Finn cross (25% Finn).
Finns & Finn-crosses not only have high numbers of lamb births per ewe lambing but more importantly they can rear and wean higher proportions of lambs.
In a lifetime 1/2 or 1/4 Finn dam produces 25-35% greater income than the average prime lamb rates achieved from traditional breeds. Finn-cross dams wean more kilograms of lamb per ewe / exposure to the ram. More importantly, these dams wean more kilograms of lamb weight per unit of food consumed.
Finn wool is described as fine, white, soft and lustrous. It has excellent crimp and style where care to retain fleece qualities is maintained as well as the advantage of prime lamb production. It will add further value to the wool prices achieved by the addition of Finn cross and Finn ewes. At the Australian Sheep & Wool Show, Australian finnsheep fleece achieved 2011 Commercial Fleece, Champion (non-merino), and 2015 2nd Runner-Up Pure Breeds (3rd overall) in Pure Breeds (British & Other Pure Breeds).
Historically, Australian Finn wool has been described as fine crossbred with the AWEX Guide describing it as 24-31 micron. Emphasis on improving average fleece micron and increasing density is achieving genetic gain in this area, with first fleeces often 21 micron.
Wool from several pure Finn flocks is now consistently achieving an average 24 micron. While first fleeces can be as low as 16-17 micron. In 2011, bales of 24 micron Finn wool sent to auction achieved 820 cents/kg, compared with 24 micron Merino wool at 790 cents/kg, where both were from the same breeder.
In Finland, Finns also have an extensive range of colours in shades of brown, grey and black. This is a desirable fibre due to the combination of colour with softness, fineness and above all high lustre. Coloured Finns are currently in development in Australia.