Keratins are the main structural proteins of wool fibres, and it is thought that variation in the keratins may affect wool fibre characteristics. Polymerase chain reaction-single stranded conformational polymorphism (PCR-SSCP) analyses were used to investigate four regions of the ovine keratin gene KRT31 including a portion of the promoter, the exon 1, exon 3 and exon 7 regions. Initially, in a screening panel of 300 New Zealand Romney, Merino and White Dorper sheep obtained from 26 farms, three, two, two and two PCR-SSCP banding patterns were observed for these four regions, respectively. The promoter region, the exon 1 and exon 3 regions contained two single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and the exon 7 region contained one SNP. The effect of the variation found in the promoter region on wool traits was subsequently investigated in 485 Southdown × Merino-cross lambs from seven sire-lines. The three variants identified in the original 300 sheep (named A, B and C) were observed with frequencies of 56, 29 and 15%, respectively. The presence of A and B had no significant effect on wool traits, but the presence of C was found to be associated with an increase in greasy fleece weight (GFW), clean fleece weight (CFW) and mean staple length (MSL). There was an effect of genotype on CFW and MSL, with BC sheep producing wool of higher CFW and MSL than AA, AB, AC and BB sheep. These results suggest that ovine KRT31 might be a useful candidate gene for improving wool traits.