Breed selection depends on what producers want to achieve with their flock
There are two common types of sheep in the small ruminant world – hair sheep and wool sheep. Hair sheep are not sheared and are typically raised for meat. Wool sheep are sheared and are typically raised for fiber (some sheep breeds, however, are dual purpose and can be raised for both meat and fiber – and sometimes even dairy). Each type has pros and cons depending on the type of operation the producer is running; “So, the first question you must ask yourself is, ‘What kind of sheep or sheep product am I trying to produce and sell?”’ said Dr. David Fernandez, Extension Livestock Specialist with the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff Cooperative Extension Program.
Hair Sheep: Two common breeds of hair sheep that are raised here in the Ozarks are Katahdin and Dorper. These breeds are commonly raised for meat, and the two breeds are also frequently crossbred, to combine the size of the Dorper with the hardiness of the Katahdin. One large pro of raising hair sheep is that they do not typically need to be shorn – they tend to sluff off any excess coat on their own. Because of this, hair sheep are easier to keep “clean” in the brushy region that is the Ozarks – no long wool means no burrs, sticks, leaves and debris trapped in the fiber. Because they lack heavy wool, it is easier to prevent heat stress losses as well with hair sheep, according to Jerry Fitch, professor and State Sheep Specialist, and Darin Annuschat, herd manager at the Sheep and Goat Center, with the University of Oklahoma. Because hair sheep are not producing fiber, they do not always require the same quality of nutrition that wool sheep need to provide strong, lustrous wool that can be sold. Hair sheep thrive on brush and forbs and are overall less management intensive than wool sheep. “Although beauty varies with the eye of the individual, many view hair sheep as not as attractive as conventional wool-breed sheep,” said Jodie Pennington, professor of Dairy and Goats with the University of Arkansas.
Wool Sheep: Wool sheep tend to appeal to a different type of market – these days, hand spinning is making a comeback and if this is a popular pastime in the producer’s area, wool sheep can be a profitable enterprise if properly managed. Sheep breeds for specialty wool production are categorized based on the diameter of wool fiber. Fine-wool breeds produce wool fibers less than 22 microns thick, while long-wool breeds produce coarser wool, with wool fiber diameter greater than 30 microns. Examples of fine-wool breeds include Rambouillet Merino, Cormo and any breed with a high percentage of Merino breeding. Lincoln, Leicester-Long Wool and Romney are examples of long-wool breeds, said Whit Stewart, Extension Sheep Specialist, Montana State University.
While quality wool can fetch a good price, it must be kept clean. Clean fleeces are worth more, so extra care is needed to produce clean fleeces for hand spinning wool. Producers often use sheep coats to cover their sheep to prevent dirt, vegetation and other contaminants from accumulating in fleeces. This type of additional cost and effort required to produce hand-spinning wool should be considered when selecting a breed, advised Whit. Another management and expense consideration is tail docking.
“Most wooled sheep have their tails docked for improved health and sanitation,” Pennington explained.
Wool sheep need a high-quality diet and impeccably well-managed pasture in order to produce good quality fiber. Since many pastures in the Ozarks tend to vary in forage type and quality, not to mention brush that can become tangled in wool.