Origin & History

The Shropshire breed emerged in Britain in mid-1800s from improvements to the native heath sheep of its home county and north Staffordshire to become the supreme meat breed of the late nineteenth century.

In 1882 the Shropshire Sheep Breeders’ Association and Flock Book Society was established in the U.K. In the following year the society became the first to publish a Flock Book of its rams, making the Shropshire the oldest recorded sheep breed in the world. Over the years information collected earlier meant a number of retrospective entries were possible, and these began with a ram of 1836.

First imported into New Zealand in 1864, Shropshire flocks were among those recorded in Volume 1 of the original New Zealand Flock Book in 1895. Shropshires increased rapidly during the nineteenth century to become the most numerous down breed during the early development of the export lamb trade. As noted in Gordon McLauchlan’s book The Farming of New Zealand, a Shropshire-cross was the first Canterbury lamb eaten in England.

Shropshire Ram - Postcard
Shropshire Ram “Norwich” (3148), 1st Prize R.A.S.E. 1887, Bred by T.S. Minton. Artist – R. Whitford - 1887

Breed Description

The Shropshire breed is now primarily used for crossing to produce prime lamb for slaughter. The down wool is used for hand knitting yarns and hosiery. Docile and hardy, naturally polled and with a sound constitution, the Shropshire adapts well to organic systems.

A major attribute is the breed’s ability to graze reliably amongst conifers without damaging the trees. Its value as an eco-friendly, cost effective weed suppressant is increasingly born out on large plantations in Ireland, Scotland, Scandinavia and Europe.

Shropshire rams are robust with good conformation. They sire strong, active, early maturing lambs with carcasses of 16 – 18.5kg.

Shropshire ewes make excellent mothers. Generally long-lived, milky and prolific, they can successfully rear multiples, producing lambs over many years.

Mixed age Shropshire ewes
Mixed age Shropshire ewes, 2009. Breeder: John Green - Photo: Sue Kingsford

Breed Classification

The Shropshire is a medium sized sheep. They are active and alert with a free action. Shropshire sheep have a naturally clean soft black face, with a good covering of wool on the poll. No black fibres should be found in the fleece. Skin should be cherry pink, not blue.

Location: On all types of country throughout New Zealand in stud, commercial and lifestyle flocks. Excel in producing prime early lambs in dry or drought prone areas such as Hawkes Bay and eastern Wairarapa. One of the most successful crosses is with Merino, where the lambs retain the finer fleece of the Merino whilst growing out quickly in the Shropshire tradition.

Bodyweight Wool

Ewes: 50-65 kg (121-132 lb)

Rams: 80-110 kg (161-176 lb)

Dense, fine quality wool of good staple. Down type. Second longest wool staple of all the down breeds.

Fibre diameter: 27-33 microns

Staple length: 65-75 mm

Fleece weight: Average 3.5kg

Uses: Knitting yarns and hosiery


High yielding carcass, ideal for further processing.


120-160 percent


A rare breed in most of the world. Currently fewer than 270 registered ewes in New Zealand, although this is up from a low of 50 registered ewes in 1981/82.