Breeds of sheep are as varied as the people who own them. Haired sheep, meat sheep, wool sheep, big sheep and small sheep all offer different breed characteristics, and those characteristics should be taken into consideration when selecting a breed.
Mark Reynolds, president of the Arkansas State Sheep Council, told Ozarks Farm and Neighbor that the goal for an operation, be it meat or wool production or “pasture pets,” should be a factor when selecting a breed. He also said that the amount of labor a would-be producer is willing to invest, and land and facility availability should also be considered.
“There are so many different breeds out there and you really have to have a plan on what you want to do,” he said.
In his Greenbrier, Ark., operation, Reynolds produces club lambs, thus he utilizes the larger framed Hampshire and Suffolk breeds, crossbreeding the two to obtain the desired traits of both breeds. Since wool production is not his goal, the wool from his stock isn’t considered a great value to his operation. He added that the wool sheared from his sheep also is of low quality and is typically unwanted by those who seek raw wool for spinning or other natural fiber projects.
There are breeds, such as Lincoln and Rambouillet, that produce a wool that is of a higher quality and is suitable for spinning.
“Mine are considered dual purpose in that they are produced for meat, but they produce wool as well,” he said. “Wool from my sheep is pretty much worthless. Unless you have a Rambouillet or a breed like that with a real desirable (wool), there really isn’t much of a market for it around here.”
Other breeds, such as Dorset, Oxford and Shropshire, are also considered dual purpose animals, in that they produce wool and meat, but their wool is also of medium or low quality.
“It is really low-grade wool,” he said. “Unless you have a market for your wool, it’s not really (a) beneficial (product) around here.”
While wool is a valuable fiber, Reynolds explained that wool breeds in the Midwest and South do not have the high-quality wool that is produced by the same breeds in regions with colder climates.
“They aren’t able to grow that fleece. Around here, it is too warm and the sheep’s body won’t tell it to grow, simply because it doesn’t need to,” he said.
The overall size of a breed should also be considered when selecting a breed. Rams in breeds such as the Rambouillet, Suffolk and Hampshire, reach more than 300 pounds, while smaller rams in smaller-framed breeds, such as Southdown and Cheviot, range between 175 and 230 pounds.
While most smaller breeds are also dual-purpose breeds, Reynolds said often times smaller breeds are used in small farm operations and in petting zoos.
“Even as an adult, they are cute,” he said. “When sheep like mine get about a year old, they aren’t cute anymore. Sheep are also very personable and each one has its own personality. Smaller breeds are pretty popular with people who just want sheep in their backyard.” There are also dairy breeds, such as Awassi, East Friesian and Cacaune.
Today, Reynolds said more producers are moving toward haired breeds, such as the Dorper and Katahdin breeds because of reduced labor requirements.
“They carry some parasite resistance and there isn’t any shearing,” he said. “If I was looking to start up an operation, or if I was looking for something to run with my cows, I would look at the Dorpers, Katahdin or the St. Croix.”
Reynolds said it is critical that those looking into producing sheep, no matter what the breed, find out as much information as possible, including talking to others in their area who are already raising sheep.
“Talk to breeders that are in your area and see what is working for them,” he said. “Talk about the pros and cons. You can get online and look things up and you can read about it, but the Ozarks is different than other places.”
Developing a plan to fight parasites should also be a top priority.
“It is extremely important because parasites are one of the biggest concerns we have,” Reynolds explained. “The haired sheep are a little better with the parasites than the wool breeds are, and there are some people who have done some testing and are pretty impressed with the results, but you really need to have a plan in place. … It’s not just an issue around the Ozarks; it’s a problem anyplace where you get hot, humid conditions.”


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