Weighing the advantages and disadvantages
As the market for small ruminants continues to climb to record prices, livestock producers are eager to step into the business of raising sheep. In order to determine which breed would be the best fit, producers may first want to take a closer look at whether they prefer wool sheep or hair sheep.
Advantages of Hair Sheep
For producers with farms in Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas choosing a breed of hair sheep may be the best option. Hair sheep naturally shed their winter coats in late spring. Thus, shepherds save money they would have to spend to shear a wool sheep. “If we are producing animals for a meat market, then we don’t need the added costs of shearing the wool,” Jennifer Lutes, agricultural business field specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, explained.
Mike Reynolds, longtime shepherd and current president of the Arkansas State Sheep Council, says hair sheep are lower maintenance compared to wool sheep. The climate of the Ozarks and potential problems with parasites make hair sheep a more viable option in some cases than wool sheep. “The wool sheep are not as resistant to parasites as some of the varieties of hair sheep are,” Reynolds explained.
Additionally, hair sheep are more heat tolerant and tend to eat a wider variety of forages than wool sheep. “The hair sheep like to browse and eat leaves more than the wool sheep, but not as much as goats,” Reynolds added.
Disadvantages of Hair Sheep
Reynolds says in his experience the hair sheep are not as docile as their wool counterparts. He adds others may disagree, but based on his experience with both types, wool sheep have better temperaments.
Another characteristic of hair sheep can be seen as a disadvantage and an advantage at the same time. Hair sheep are smaller than wool sheep. Hair sheep have a lower carcass weight. On one hand, this means hair sheep have lower maintenance, inputs and feed costs. On the other, they weigh less at market.
However, despite their smaller carcass and lighter weight, experts say hair sheep still bring more at market. “Hair sheep do tend to have a higher price point in our auctions than wool sheep do,” Lutes stated.
Reynolds adds the reduced maintenance of hair sheep outweighs the larger carcasses of wool sheep. “Even though the carcasses of hair sheep are smaller, they are still more profitable from a commercial standpoint,” Reynolds said. “The carcass of a wool sheep will be bigger and you will have more pounds, but you will have a whole lot more money invested in them to get that carcass weight.”
Advantages of Wool Sheep
In some cases, wool sheep are a better pick for producers. If someone is interested in raising wool sheep for a specific niche market or to sell show sheep (club lambs), then investing the time and energy can be worth it. “If you have a small acreage that you want to raise a handful of sheep on for a niche market whether for a spinner or a club lamb, there is an advantage of having a wool sheep,” Reynolds stated.
Disadvantages of Wool Sheep
In this part of the country, wool sheep are less tolerant to the warm, humid climate. In addition, it typically costs more to have the sheep sheared than the wool is worth. At the sale barn, sheep with unsheared or dirty wool bring less money.
Reynolds says when trying to determine whether to raise hair or wool sheep producers should think about their end goal and then decide which type is best for their operation.