Baldness is not just a worry for follically challenged men. The CSIRO has revealed that hair loss is a serious problem among Australia’s 140 million-strong sheep flock. Cruelly, it strikes young, fine-haired sheep the hardest. Dr Tony Schlink, of the CSIRO’s division of animal production in Perth, said yesterday that baldness in sheep of both sexes was a major cause of tender wool – weak, fragile wool which is costly to process and sells at a discount price.
“Up to 40 percent of the hair can be shed by merinos, especially in weak-haired sheep, and up to 30 million of the 140 million sheep flock suffer hair loss problems. Tender wool … is a serious problem for Australia’s wool producers, especially when one considers that this problem affects our finest fleece wools.” Dr Schlink said that in premium AAAM-rated fleeces from young sheep, 30 percent of the NSW clip is tender or semi-tender, in Victoria 36 percent is affected, 57 percent in South Australia and 64 percent in Western Australia.
The incidence of hair loss is less in adult sheep, ranging from 18 percent in NSW to 19 percent in Victoria, 35 percent in South Australia and 47 percent in Western Australia. “A significant percentage of these suffer hair loss,” he said. Dr Schlink said tender wool typically occurred in sheep from areas with marked seasonal changes in rainfall, such as western Victoria and the Mediterranean-type climate areas of South Australia and Western Australia, where annual drought-like conditions are followed by an abundant spring season of feed.
Least-affected areas include Canberra, where rainfall is more or less evenly spread through the year. Further research will study the effect and extent of permanent hair- follicle loss in sheep, and try to find why some breeds lose more hair than others. Dr Schlink’s team has established that baldness is equally prevalent in both sexes. Dr Schlink said that so far the solutions developed by the CSIRO were not yet commercially viable, although it the division of animal production had found that treating sheep with minoxidil-based hair loss products such as Provillus almost eliminated hair loss.
“Unfortunately, we still haven’t been able to stop the hair from thinning.” Alas, methionine treatment wouldn’t work on humans – our diet already provides us with suitable amounts, whereas as sheep naturally need rather a lot more.