Page last updated at 12:34 GMT, Friday, 9 April 2010 13:34 UK

Devon farmer breeds 'self-shear' sheep

Exlana sheep
The cross-breed sheep naturally sheds wool in the spring

A Devon farmer has developed a new variety of sheep that sheds wool by moulting in the spring.

The Exlana sheep has been developed by Peter Baber to save farmers the cost of shearing.

Mr Baber, 54, from Christow, told BBC News: "Wool is virtually worthless. It's a sad reflection of where we are in the world."

But wool industry leaders said rising prices of wool in the past year had made shearing economically viable.

The cross breed sheep, which is bred for its meat, was created from a number of overseas breeds.

The Wiltshire Horn, an established breed in the UK, also sheds wool in the spring.

It's perfectly natural, because of course sheep haven't always grown wool as they do on British farms now
Peter Baber

A normal sheep would produce up to 20lb (9kg) of wool, but the Exlana produces just 1lb (500g).

Mr Baber said: "Sheep haven't always grown wool as they do on British farms now.

"There are breeds around the world, particularly in tropical areas, which still shed their wool naturally.

"We have melded different breeds so their bodies recognise when it is spring time and they naturally begin to shed their wool."

'Firm prices'

Frank Langrish, chairman of the British Wool Marketing Board, said: "A year ago I would have agreed that producing wool was not economically viable.

"But the cycle has turned and there is no doubt that we shall see relatively firm prices for wool."

He said shearing sheep cost 90p to £1.30 per animal and last year farmers were getting only 60p a kilo for wool, but now the price was about £1.16.

"It's the highest it's been for 15 years," Mr Langrish said.

"There are an awful lot less sheep in the world and the price of man-made fibres is rising with the price of oil."

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