|Photo Source: New Zealand Rare Breeds
The rugged and remote landscape of Stewart Island, New Zealand, has witnessed the ebb and flow of sheep farming ventures since the late 19th century. In 1874, the island saw its first large-scale sheep farming endeavor at Scott Burn, albeit on terrain ultimately deemed unsuitable for sustained agricultural activities. However, undeterred by initial setbacks, subsequent sheep runs were established on drier and more favorable land at Island Hill and Kilbride in Masons Bay along the western coast, marking the expansion of sheep farming operations on the island.
Prior to these endeavors, only small numbers of sheep were kept on the island for household purposes, primarily concentrated at The Neck on the eastern coast. Despite the persistent efforts, sheep farming on Stewart Island never achieved significant success, and the industry gradually declined, ultimately ceasing by the 1990s.
Nevertheless, remnants of these farming operations persisted in the form of feral sheep populations, descendants of those that escaped captivity. In recent years, efforts have been made to recover and maintain these feral sheep populations on the mainland. Notably, these feral sheep share striking similarities with those from Arapawa Island, characterized by their relatively small size and distinctive appearance, with rams sporting particularly fine horns. Typically black in color, these feral sheep often exhibit white patches on their noses and between their eyes, along with a white tip on their tails.
Endowed with acute awareness and a keen sense of vigilance, these feral sheep demonstrate remarkable alertness, with females often assuming the role of vigilant lookout for approaching strangers within their group. Ewes exhibit a strong maternal instinct, fiercely protecting their lambs. Remarkably resilient, these sheep exhibit remarkable adaptability to lean feed conditions, maintaining their condition better than commercial breeds and requiring minimal intervention such as drenching or treatment for dags.
In recent times, the Department of Conservation has taken proactive measures to eradicate feral sheep, along with other feral animals, from Stewart Island. This initiative aims to preserve the integrity of native forest ecosystems and safeguard the habitats of indigenous wildlife from potential damage caused by invasive species.