Wool Sheep Breeds
An Introduction to Breeds of Sheep Raised for Wool
Primitive man first domesticated the sheep in 10,000 BC … in part because this animal produced wool fiber which could be used for clothing, blankets, and other knit and woven products.
Today sheep are raised commercially for wool production around the world, but wool breeds of sheep are also raised on a number of small hobby farms where fiber artists use the wool to create sweaters, hats, mittens, blankets, socks, and much more.
On this page we’ll introduce you to some of the most popular fine wool breeds of sheep and breeds that produce longer, more coarse (but still excellent) wool.
You can click through to learn more about any of these wool sheep breeds.
Popular Wool Sheep Breeds
Learn more about any of these popular wool breeds by clicking through to our page with the history, characteristics and photos of each breed.
Fine Wool Sheep Breeds
While each of the fine wool sheep breeds listed below can be raised and bred for meat production, these sheep breeds are primarily valued and raised for their fine wool production.
These sheep are selected for their ability to grow dense, fine fleece that is ideal for the production of ultra-soft, high-end clothing. While the staple (length) of the fleece produced by these breeds isn’t as long as that produced by long wool sheep breeds, the fleece produced by fine wool breeds of sheep may outweigh the longer fleece typical of Romneys or other breeds that produce wool that’s best suited for hand-spinning.
While fine wool sheep breed ewes tend to be excellent mothers, lambs will gain size and weight much more slowly than other breeds as a significant emphasis is placed upon the quality and consistency of their fleece. As a result much of the energy gained from feed goes toward the production of fine, lustrous wool. These sheep breeds may require more feed to gain weight at a comparable rate to meat breeds.
Most fine wool sheep breeds are docile and easy to handle, making them a good choice for a young child new to 4-H or FFA, but they won’t clean up as nicely for the show ring as many other breeds so if you are interested in showing sheep that produce wool a dual purpose breed like a Columbia or Corriedale might be a healthy compromise and make for a more enjoyable show ring experience for your child. If you or your youngster is interested in hand-spinning or knitting with the wool your sheep produce, fine wool breeds are an excellent choice.
In the show ring an emphasis is placed on the consistency of the fleece. Judges will look for uniformity in crimp (waviness) and fiber diameter and preference is given for a lustrous health fleece. Size, muscle tone, conformation and adherence to the breed characteristic defined by that particular fine wool sheep breeder’s organization are considered important, but these sheep are valued primarily for wool production and as such their physical characteristics are not emphasized quite as much as they are in other breeds during competition.
Learn More About These Fine Wool Breeds of Sheep
Long Wool Breeds of Sheep
Each of the long wool sheep breeds listed below can be raised and bred for meat production, these sheep breeds are primarily valued and raised for their wool production.
These long wool breeds of sheep are selected and bred for their ability to grow lustrous fleece with a loose crimp (waviness) and long staple (fiber length) that is ideal for craftsmen and craftswomen interested in spinning wool and creating hand-knit woolen products.
Many of these long wool breeds are an excellent choice for a beginner’s 4-H project because they tend to be smaller than meat breeds and offer an opportunity for youngsters to learn about wool production first hand.
In the show ring an emphasis is placed on the consistency of the fleece for long wool sheep breeds. Judges will look for uniformity in crimp (waviness) and fiber diameter and preference is given to a lustrous healthy fleece. Size, muscle tone, conformation and adherence to the breed characteristics defined by that particular sheep breeder’s organization are considered important, but unlike meat breeds these sheep are valued primarily for wool production.