The Keri Sheep

Keri-Keri Sheep are bred on the criteria of:

1. Survival
2. Reproduction &
3. Wool and Meat.

The Keri-Keri Sheep are renowned for their large bone, lovely soft open faces, huge plain bodied frame, fast growth rate and heavy cutting soft wool.

Keri-Keri sheep have been vigourously selected for these characteristics for more than seventy years, together with factors including big wide open frames, a free loose skin free of wrinkle, rapid growth rate, structural correctness, particularly in the legs and feet.

Physical characteristics

These big boned ewe weaners (above right) are highly fecund, and at classing time are selected for twinning ability. With their dense and long staple length, Keri-Keri has now moved to shearing twice a year (when shearers are available).

Keri-Keri has also been selecting for ewes with four milking teats, “four teaters”.


“When Dr Jim Watts left the CSIRO, I approached Jim to further advance the stud, and he accepted the challenge. Jim also noticed that about 15% of the sheep had four milking teats. We put a mob of these ewes together and found we could get a much higher lambing percentage, and the weaning weights were a lot higher. The Four teater flock now numbers about 350 ewes. We are now able to identify these sheep as lambs, both males and females. They are having higher lambing percentages, less or nil losses, and have at least 15% higher body weight.”  

Peter Dowling



Keri-Keri sheep are a breed unto themselves, and an unusual feature of our classing system is that all ewes and ram lambs are run down the classing race before any other classing activity such as assessing their wool. Sheep that don’t fit in with the above criteria are culled, and never looked at again.

We believe we create fertility on the drafting gate, and over the years have developed a tremendously pre-potent genetic make up, that when crossed over many other flocks and bloodlines, immediately make a tremendous improvement in sheep that have become ‘tied up’ with wrinkle, small frame, high maintenance and fertility problems.

Ewes and fecundity

The difference between fertility and fecundity is an important point. Not only are the Keri-Keri ewes renowned for their high fertility rate (conception), but more importantly they are sought after for their strong rearing characteristics such as milking and mothering to produce a strong, healthy and heavy lamb at weaning.

It isn’t profitable to have ewes that bear a high percentage of lambs but cannot keep them alive.

Fecundity – the number of lambs weaned

The fecundity of a Merino flock used to be acceptable at about 70 – 80%, but is now expected to be much higher, to be competitive with meat production breeds and to be profitable. A higher fecundity rate also assists in producing surplus progeny, giving greater breadth of selection and helping rebuild flock numbers following drought conditions and to enable Australia to keep its wool and meat production increasing.

High fecundity – ewes have multiple lambs and are able to rear them.

A plain bodied sheep encompasses the characteristic of an extended neck which avoids difficult births in ewes and also allows sheep to forage better, especially in drought conditions. The Keri-Keri sheep exhibit this trait strongly through all their bloodline as they have learnt to browse on trees and bushes, and not simply graze ‘downwards’. The sheep that tend to exhibit these survival behaviours also are associated with high survival rates of progeny and high fecundity rates.

Wool Characteristics

Dr Jim Watts is taking a mid-side skin sample from a young Keri-Keri sire. A circular skin trephine, one centimetre in diameter is used.

“We are looking for high follicle density of very long and fine fibre diameter fibres. This requires a large starting population of pre-papilla cells to be available in the unborn lamb’s skin from day 60 of gestation onwards and for these cells to be distributed as many small clusters.We are looking for very fine primary fibres of uniform diameters, high follicle density associated with high levels of secondary follicle branching (or high secondary follicle to primary follicle ratio), fine secondary fibres of uniform diameters, and from fleece samples, very long fibres of uniform length.

“Merino sheep have on average, 55 follicles per square millimetre of skin, and a secondary follicle to primary follicle(S/P ratio) of 20 to 1. Primary fibres are usually 1 to 2 microns coarser than the secondary fibres. The fibres grow, on average, at the rate of .30 millimetres per day.

“However, the Keri-Keri merino sires record densities about 50% higher, and fibre lengths 200 to 250% higher.Quite amazingly, we frequently find that the primary fibres of Keri-Keri sires are now measuring about 6 to 8 microns finer than the secondary fibres, or about 13 to 14 microns in diameter – clear signs of advanced follicle formation.”

Jim Watts

In the laboratory, the skin sample is used to measure wool follicle density where the skin sample is cut into horizontal sections, each about 25 microns thick. The sections are stained to highlight the wool follicles and fibres, and then examined under a Reichert lanometer microscope. The density or number of wool follicles per square millimetre of skin, the number of secondary follicles to primary follicles are counted and the diameters of the primary and secondary fibres are measured. A wool sample is taken from the mid-side region to measure fibre length. This is done before the animal is shorn.

Startling breeding improvements were achieved by Dr Jim Watts with the Keri-Keri sheep by selecting sires and ewes that had this desired long, soft and free growing wool.

By simply applying this selection technique, in ten years the fibre diameter reduced from 27 to 21.5 micron, and the fleece weight increased from seven to nine kilograms per ewe for a 12 month growing period

Keri-Keri 8107

A great product of our breeding program is our leading sire Keri-Keri 8107 who is a four teater ram producing female progeny that can have an udder with four milk secreting teats. He is a great sire for producing progeny with high fibre density and length. In 2003 his ewe hoggets grew over 200 millimetres of 18 micron wool for 12 months. He is an outstanding carcase animal with one of the leading growth rates of sires in the Merino Validation project. His estimated breeding value for 200 day body weight is + 10 kilograms.

Many a woolgrower is chasing lower microns, as they seek the higher price per kilo for the finer wool. But is this really a paying proposition ?, as the sheep inevitably become smaller, less fertile, and less productive. The following table, put together by Peter Dowling gives rise to serious food for thought:


If wool shorn from 1000 ewes was sold on 1/3/05, yields worked on averages at Keri-Keri percentages are worked with 23 micron at 8.5kg cut as 100%.

Wool cuts based on estimated 12 months growth for each micron *

Micron Mkt Ind Cut Kgs Gross $ Per head % Comment
25 588 8.5 $31,657.00 31.66 85.33 Easy care, high lambing percentage
24 656 8.5 $35,318.00 $35.32 95.20 Easy care, high lambing percentage
23 689 8.5 $37,095.00 $37.1 100.00 Easy care, high lambing percentage
22 705 8 $35,724.00 $35.72 96.29 Easy care, high lambing percentage
21 746 8 $37801.00 $37.80 101.89 Easy care, high lambing percentage
21 746 7 $33076.00 $33.08 89.15                           ?
20 804 7 $35947.00 $35.95 96.89                           ?
20 804 6 $30555.00 $30.56 82.36                           ?
19 858 6 $32607.00 $32.61 87.89                           ?

* Please note – this is a theoretical exercise

Mothering Ability

Apart from being big profitable wool cutters in adverse conditions Keri-Keri sheep are easy to care for, and produce much sort after dams for the fat lamb producers as shown in prices realised in the October Swan Hill sale year after year. The Keri-Keri’s are also renowned for being good mothers. It is not uncommon when the ewes are in the yards with their lambs, to see them chasing the dogs away to protect their young. At marking time, the ewes are let loose back in to the paddock as soon as the lambs are drafted off. The ewes always hang around the outside of the portable yards, waiting to get their lambs back, even though the paddocks are possibly 5000 acres in size.(No need to pen the ewes and lambs up overnight to help them mother up)!