Which Breed of Sheep is Right for You?
All sheep are not alike. There are literally dozens of breeds of sheep to choose from when deciding which type of sheep you want to raise. When deciding which sheep breed is right for your operation, the number one question you should ask is…what do you want your sheep to do for you?
That may seem like a strange question, but when you consider the different types of sheep and their primary productivity purpose, it is a perfectly reasonable question to ask…
Long Wool Sheep Breeds such as the Romney, Border Leicester, Lincoln, and others produce long, lustrous fibers which are highly valued by craftsmen and craftswomen - namely hand-spinners and those interested in knitting and felting custom items. Many of these breeds are known for their hardiness, for being prolific and for their strong maternal instinct.
Meat Sheep Breeds are valued for their rapid weight gain, hardiness and the lean, well-muscled carcass they produce. Some meat breeds such as the Southdown, Suffolk and Hampshire produce wool but their wool isn't as highly valued as those produced by wool breeds. They also don't produce as much wool each year. Other sheep commonly raised for meat are hair sheep - so named because they shed what wooly fibers they have (if any); fibers that are of no value. The value in these breeds, is in their carcass. These sheep breeds are less fatty, milder tasting and have higher protein/lower cholesterol meat than wool sheep breeds. The Katahdin, St. Croix, Barbados and Dorper are the most popular breeds of hair sheep raised for meat. The Katahdin is a hardy, easy-lambing animal that produces a quality carcass. The Dorper, though a bit fattier if not processed early, is also a good meat breed choice. The Barbados Blackbelly, however, are thinner and not nearly as docile.
Fine Wool Breeds such as the Merino, Rambouillet, and Debouillet are renowned for their ability to produce fine, high quality wool which is sought after for the construction of high-end clothing. This is in large part due to the softness of the fibers thanks to a tight, high crimp (waviness) fleece.
Dual Purpose sheep breeds like the Columbia, Corriedale or the Polypay offer sheep breeders the opportunity to raise sheep with valuable wool and valuable meat production abilities.
Minor Breeds such as the Icelandic, Jacob and others are more rare and they are often raised for their milk, for the show ring and for soap/lotion production.
These days the majority of people who raise sheep commercially in the US are raising sheep for the purpose of selling lambs for meat production. The rise in popularity of eating lamb is due to the increased ethnic populations in the United States and the increased awareness of the health benefits and tastiness of lamb.
The production of wool remains a strong industry, although it is not nearly as strong as it was during WWII. It often takes several years for wool production to be even slightly profitable for sheep producers as it generally will take more time to establish a market for your wool and wool products and because it takes a year to produce a fleece whereas lambs can be ready for market within a few months. For most smaller hobby wool farmers it often costs more to get the sheep shorn than they can charge for the wool their sheep produce.
The other reasons you might find to raise sheep include…
So…do your homework. Know which sheep breeds are best suited for your farm, family and your intended purpose. Our list of sheep breeds is a great resource as you research and will offer facts and insight as you make your decision.
Learn More About Getting Started With Sheep