White headed marsh originated in the North sea marshes of West Germany. Its beginnings can be traced back to the mid 1800s when North German Marsh sheep, the local milk sheep, and imported British long wool breeds (including the Cotswold) were crossbred. The White Headed Marsh sheep brought to N.Z. were selected by Professor Coop (he developed the Coopworth breed) and imported by LAMBXL from Denmark.
In 1990 we purchased 11 Stud White Headed Marsh ewes and 10 Stud Rams with a variety of blood lines from LAMBXL elite flock in the North Island. We were attracted to the potential of the White Headed Marsh, highly regarded in Europe. In Denmark and North Germany, the WHM live outside in very wet and cold conditions. They are known for their hardy natural immunity, easy-care nature and excellent meat and wool. They naturally lamb at 180% in Denmark. They are similar looking to Romneys or Coopworths, but much larger with meaty hind quarters and wide deep loins and rack (the most valuable cuts). Their wool is mainly between the fine 27 to 46 Hair type micron range.
In 1991, we put Marsh Rams over some of our ewes. The result was tall, large, fast growing lambs. Since then we have put Marsh Rams over all our main wool Flock ewes and we graded up to Purebred Marsh. In 1995 we bought another Marsh stud of 9 ewes and 5 rams of completely different blood lines. In 1996 we faced up to the fact that the Marsh is a much better breed of sheep for our organic farming than Romneys. So our Mangapiri Romney stud ewes were mated with stud Marsh Rams to breed up and grade up more Marsh ewes.
Our Romney stud was established in 1980. It was sad to give up on the Romney but for so many years the breed’s performance was based on chemical props. We made some progress adapting the Romney to organic farming but it was often a struggle. In 1998 we bought 8 ewes & 2 rams from another Marsh Stud.
We are pleased with the vigour, strength & absence of dags with the Marsh lambs. The ewes are very fertile, and good mothers with an extremely high milk output. They have great longevity: many retaining productivity for over 12 years. For Organic farming in our environment, Marsh are more productive than other medium wool dual-purpose breeds.
From 2001, we mated all our commercial Marsh ewes and pure Hair Marsh ewes to Wiltshire Hair rams to breed up an interesting new Hair strain of Wiltshire, our trademarked SHIRE® breed, from our strong Organic Marsh & Wiltshire base.