Position: Scientist, AgResearch Lincoln and AgResearch Winchmore.
Field: Sheep breeding.
Dr David Scobie works with sheep and issues associated with their skin and wool. He was part of a 13 year project that developed a sheep breed that is more cost-effective and lower maintenance for farmers - easy care sheep.
...the best part about this job has been the enthusiastic response of sheep farmers.
David works with sheep, sheep skin and wool and the on-farm issues associated with the production of these products. Part of his work has been devoted to reducing the incidence of flystrike on sheep. As an aside from this, the new type of sheep he developed are more efficient to farm because there are less costs associated with maintaining them.
“The best part about this job has been the enthusiastic uptake of these traits by sheep farmers,” says David. “Some research is just interesting and sometimes only of deep interest to the researcher, whereas this research has been applicable to sheep farming and has the potential to make a profound difference to the way we think about breeding and managing sheep.”
David had a diverse training as an undergraduate and was interested in all the fields that Agricultural Science at Adelaide University in South Australia could offer. However, when he specialised in his final year, he studied entomology and animal science. His postgraduate training was in animal science, and his thesis was entitled The short-term effects of stress hormones on cell division rate in wool follicles.
Following this, he was a tutor in zoology at Adelaide University, which, for a young man from a farming background, was useful to observe the variety of solutions that the animal kingdom have to survive in an enormous range of environments as sometimes we forget that livestock need to first live in their environment and then produce something for us to harvest.
A brief period of work in the physics of wool fibres when he first came to AgResearch in New Zealand was followed by other work in wool and leather quality traits. During his years at AgResearch, his experience in stress hormones, insects (particularly blowflies) and sheep breeding has been devoted to improving sheep welfare while reducing the costs of farming sheep.
End of the easy care project
Dr Scobie's easy care sheep project come to an end in 2014 with the sale of 300 scientifically-bred sheep. Find out more in this Farmers Weekly news article. Find out how David's work has continued to be of use to farmers here, including his thoughts on this project and belief that new ideas need more investment.
David and his wife Susie own a lifestyle block with some forestry of pines and wattle, and of course, sheep are a feature of this farm. They run a flock of sheep in partnership with another family, and these are called Bo Hipi – ‘Bo’ is based on the French word ‘beau’ for beautiful, and ‘hipi’ is the Māori word for sheep.
The Scobies enjoy travel, primarily in the Pacific, and although Australia is their homeland, there are massive areas where they have not yet set foot!
This article is based on information current in 2011 and 2018.
This NZ Farm Life article Easy-care fleece work not lost details how some farmers are continuing the research that David Scobie started.