Sheep were originally kept for wool production with meat being a secondary product. However, over the past few decades there has been an increase in sheep meat consumer demand hence the growth of the meat production industry. As such, most farmers are seeking for an opportunity to be part of this lucrative industry. Prior to investing in this type of sheep farming, it is of the essence to have knowledge about different breeds and their characteristics so as to select a suitable variety.
Table of Contents
Characteristics of the Best Sheep Breeds
Meat sheep breeds are generally characterised by rapid weight gain, weighing at least half of an adult animal at 4 months old. The best meat sheep breeds are determined by muscle quality, meat composition, and nutritional characteristics; they should be rich in several vitamins, minerals, and essential polyunsaturated fatty acids. The following are the common features of the best meat sheep breeds:
- Strong physique with well-developed muscle mass
- A thick layer of subcutaneous fat, which increases, regardless of the season
- High output of meat products
- Fertility and rapid maturing
- The possibility of year-round grazing
- Healthy immune system
Suffolk sheep originated in the late 18th in Suffolk hence its name. They are a cross breed between Norfolk Horned ewes and Southdown rams. They have bare heads, black faces, and bare black legs but no horns. Suffolk sheep are characterised by their relatively large stature. For this reason they are considered as one of the best meat breeds. The Suffolk ewes can grow to a large size range of 82 to 114kg whereas the rams can weigh up to 160kg. Owing to their large physical appearance, they have higher muscle quality and meat composition. In addition, their meat is highly famed for its superior quality compared to most breeds. The meat has high nutritional value in terms of several vitamins, minerals, and essential polyunsaturated fatty acids. Furthermore, Suffolk sheep are considered among the best meat sheep breeds because of their faster growth rate and longer life expectancy. Their lifespan ranges from 11 to 13 years. They are generally a hardy breed which breeds well and so is often used in improving other sheep meat breeds. Suffolk sheep thrive in conditions ranging from damp to dry pastures or paddocks. The upside of keeping Suffolk sheep is that they produce a substantial amount of wool which can be used as a secondary source of income.
The Dorper is a South African mutton crossbreed from the Dorset Horn and the Blackheaded Persian. The breed has the characteristic black head as well as the white head. Farmers often favour the black headed Dorper sheep hence they constitute a large number of sheep production. The Dorper breed is among the best meat sheep breeds in the world as they are highly fertile and are able to mate throughout the year compared to their counterparts that tend to mate during the fall season only. As such, they are the most popular choice for industrial scale sheep meat production. A lambing percentage of 150% can be reached under good conditions while in exceptional cases even 180% can be attained. Under extensive conditions a lambing percentage of 100% can be expected. Another advantage of keeping this breed is that it has a higher growth rate. By the age of 3 to 4 months, Dorper sheep can reach up to 36kg with 17 to 18kg carcase. The average daily gain of Dorper sheep is approximately 81 to 91g per day under extensive conditions. They are also considered to be the best meat sheep breeds because of their hardy and resourceful nature. Dorper sheep can thrive under a range of climatic conditions. They have a thick skin which protects them from harsh weather. The skin is pricey thus can be used as a secondary source of income.
This breed is said to be the among the best sheep meat breeds world over. As the name suggests, Hampshire sheep are originally from Southern England in the county of Hampshire. They are known for their large, strong muscling and blocky physical appearance which makes them a superior mutton breed. They are mainly white with a dark face that is moderately long and have slightly dropped ears. Their legs are often dark with some wool below the knees. Hampshire sheep are usually polled. Hampshire are an early maturing breed therefore are one of the best sheep meat breeds. Farmers generally favour fast growing breeds in the sheep meat industry as they are highly profitable. Mature ewes weigh anywhere around 100kg, on the other hand rams can grow as large as 160kg. Due to their large, lean carcasses and early growth rate, they are often used to improve other breeds through cross breeding. Hampshire sheep have a long breeding season, the ewes experience a large percentage of multiple births. In addition, they are quite hardy and can tolerate varied weather patterns.
The Southdown sheep were developed during the late 1700 and early 1800s in Sussex, England. They are dark-faced, polled sheep with light brown to grey faces and legs. Southdown sheep are considered to be amongst the best sheep meat breeds world over. They are average in size with ewes weighing in at 60 to 80kg or slightly more; rams often weigh about 85 to 105kg. Despite their average sized stature that seems smaller compared to other sheep meat breeds, Southdown sheep are popular for their ability to produce meaty lamb carcasses at such light weights. For this reason, they are usually used in cross breeding and are said to excel at it. They generally mature faster which is an ideal characteristic is of the best meat sheep breeds. The Southdown sheep are also known for their active nature, they are also hardy and efficient foragers thus require a limited investment in feed. Note that farmers should still provide nutritious supplementary feed for improved productivity
Texel breeds originate from the island of Texel, off the Dutch North-Sea coast. This breed is characterised by a distinctive short, wide face with a black nose and widely placed, short ears with a nearly horizontal carriage. These sheep also have black hooves. There are considered among the best sheep meat breeds due to their outstanding muscle development and well fleshed, lean carcasses. Texel sheep grow relatively fast with ewes weighing approximately 90kg and rams roughly 130kg. Their average daily gain is at 250g. They can weigh up to 25kg during the first 12 weeks. They are easy fleshing animals that can thrive on grass feeds. None the less, a nutritious balanced diet is key for improving productivity. Texel sheep are strong and hardy therefore are able to excel in varied climatic conditions. In addition, they have good milk production which can be used as a supplementary source of income.