What are Some of the Most Popular Sheep Breeds?

In this post we are going to take a look at some of the sheep breeds that you can rear. Generally, sheep are classified on the basis of meat and wool production, with many breeds being suitable for both.

With that in mind let’s get into it, here are the Top 10 Sheep Breeds that you can use in your production.

Southdown

Bred in the UK during the late 1700’s, the Southdown sheep is commonly reared for both its wool and meat. Southdown’s are also valued for their use in crossbreeding to improve certain characteristics in other breeds. These sheep are medium to large in size and are clearly identifiable by their white wool and brownish faces. The Southdowns are ‘polled’, which means they lack horns. Their wool is fine to medium with a fibre diameter of 23-29 microns.

Suffolk

This breed was developed in the UK in the early 1800’s when Norfolk ewes were crossed with Southdown rams. They easily stand out in a crowd with their black faces and woolless legs. Suffolk sheep are reared for their meat, specifically mutton, which makes this early-maturing breed a favourite among producers. Unfortunately, the wool from Suffolk sheep is short and tarnished by their back hue. Like the Southdowns, these sheep are also ‘polled’.

Black-headed Persian

The South African-bred Black-headed Persian has a fat tail and, like their name suggests, a black face. These sheep have a hair-like coat as opposed to a woolly one and are therefore primarily reared for their meat. Because of this, this breed does not tolerate cold temperatures very well and thrive instead in hotter climates. Both the ewes and rams are generally polled.

Dorset Horn

An endangered breed, the Dorset Horn is mainly reared for its meat or for conservation purposes. As the name might suggest, both the male and female sheep have horns. Apart from their meat, the Dorset Horn can produce between 2 to 5kg of medium graded wool per sheep per year. They can also be reared as dairy sheep.  One of the most interesting aspects of this breed is their extended breeding season. This is a characteristic allows the ewes to lamb twice a year.

Dorper

The Dorper is reared for meat production, primarily mutton. It is one of the most economically important sheep in South Africa, after it was bred there by crossing Dorset Horns and Black-headed Persians. These sheep can have white or black heads and are perfectly adapted to withstand the arid conditions of southern Africa. Dorper ewes can lamb up to three times a year and are therefore a breeder’s dream. To achieve this, however, a breeder needs to be experienced in correctly selecting weaned lambs for breeding purposes.

Lincoln Sheep

Also known as the Lincoln Longwool, this breed was developed to have the longest and most gleaming coat of all sheep. The Lincoln sheep are commonly exported from the UK and used to interbreed and improve the coat quality of other sheep. They are one of the largest breeds and will produce a lean carcass when reared for their meat. The Lincoln Sheep are heavy feeders and should be kept on lush pastures. Due to their thick coats, they are suited to colder areas and can withstand dry conditions too.

Merino

Merino sheep are one of the best sheep breeds and are forerunners in both wool and mutton production. They are favoured for their high quality, medium to fine wool which offers natural UV-protection, breathability and competitive prices. Merino mutton is lean, succulent and flavoursome. The sheep are medium sized are can be polled or horned. Merino sheep are hardy, resilient and adapted to most environmental conditions.

Hampshire Down

Hailing from the UK, the Hampshire Down was bred in the 1800’s when Southdowns were crossed with the Old Hampshire sheep. These sheep have large, black bodies that are covered with white fur. Hampshire Downs are most commonly reared as meat sheep. They are extremely resilient and able to adapt to almost all climates. This energetic breed have a long breeding season and the ewes commonly give birth to multiple lambs at a time.

Cheviot

One of the oldest breeds on this list, the Cheviot sheep are believed to date back as far as the 1300’s. Cheviot sheep are highly adaptive, being able to thrive both cold and hot, as well as wet and dry climates. A large breed, these sheep produce copious amounts of white, fuzzy wool which is very durable. Cheviot sheep are low-maintenance, especially when it comes to lambing as the ewes make capable and attentive mothers.

Ile de France

These sheep have large, smooth bodies and are mostly reared for their mutton, however, they can produce wool of medium quality and pure colour. Their wool quality can be improved when the rams are crossed with first generation merino ewes. These sheep can also be reared for milk production. The ewes mature early and can breed out of season, allowing them to produce 3 lambs every 2 years. These sheep are hardy and can withstand both hot and cold climates and are an ideal breed for novice sheep farmers.

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