Farming sheep for wool production has been a thriving agricultural activity for over thousands of years. Throughout this time period, the best breeds of sheep for wool have been developed through selective mating and crossbreeding. As such, it is important to have knowledge about the different sheep breeds so as to ensure success of the agricultural venture. This is because different sheep breeds produce a varied yield quantity and quality. Sheep for wool are often white faced and have a smaller carcass compared to meat breeds. They tend to grow a large amount of wool, hence being bred for the production of wool. However, note that some breeds like the Suffolk sheep have a larger carcass and are able to grow a substantial amount of wool hence excel in both wool and meat production.
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This breeds originates in Spain where it has been kept for wool production for over thousands of years. The Merino sheep is often referred to as the king of sheep due to their superior wool quality. As such, it is one of the best sheep for wool production. Merino sheep can either be polled or horned. Polled Merino sheep have very small stubs known as scurs. On the other hand, horned Merino breeds have long, spiral horns that tend to grow close to the head. They have a white facial colour; their legs are also white. They have wool on their faces, however, it is seldom long enough to result in wool blindness. Merino ewes weigh approximately 55kg to 80kg whereas rams weigh around 80kg to 105kg. Merino wool is less than 15 microns in diameter therefore qualifying it amongst the finest globally. Wool from Merino sheep is soft and is less likely to itch. For this reason, their wool is the most priced. The wool must be shorn at least once a year as it does not stop growing thus can cause heat stress, blindness and mobility problems. An upside to keeping Merino sheep is that they are strong and hardy animals that are well adapted to varied climates; they are also good foragers. As such, they require a limited financial investment and are highly profitable.
The Rambouillet sheep is considered to be the largest as well as the best sheep for wool production. Rambouillet sheep are easily distinguishable by their white faces and legs with wool. The wool covering the face is somewhat heavy and tends to grow faster, as such, it must be trimmed often to prevent wool blindness. Rambouillet sheep are a horned breed with rams having big curved horns. Mature Rambouillet rams weigh anywhere between 113kg to 135 kg; ewes range from 68kg to 90kg. Their fleece weight averages between 3.6kg to 8.1kg with a yield of 35% to 55%. The fleece staple length varies from 5cm to 10 cm. Fleece from this breed is relatively heavy and is valuable in the manufacture of cloth. Rambouillet sheep produce very fine to medium quality wool with a fibre diameter ranging between 18.5 to 24.5 microns. Wool that is categorised as fine is that with fibre diameter of 22 microns and less. An upside to keeping Rambouillet sheep is that they excel in cross breeding thereby producing some of the best sheep for wool production. Due to the exceptional wool quality produced by Rambouillet sheep, the ewes are crossbred extensively with long coarse wool rams to produce breeding ewes with heavy, attractive medium wool as well as choice market lambs. Highly valued for their outstanding wool production and high-quality fine wool fleeces, the Rambouillet sheep breed also offers commercial farmers fast growth rate and suitable carcass thus can also be used for meat production.
Leicester Longwool Breeds
The Leicester Longwool breed is one of the best sheep for wool production. Leicester Longwool sheep are large and polled. They can either be black or white in colour. The body is deep and of considerable length with full flanks. The back is broad and level; the ribs are well sprung. Leicester Longwool legs are of medium length and are covered in white or black hair, depending on the breed. Back legs are usually covered in wool. Leicester Longwool sheep are susceptible to wool blindness. For this reason, the wool covering the face must be trimmed timeously. This breed is also characterised by its long and heavy fleece. The fleece is heavy, curly, soft handling and lustrous, with a spiral-tipped staple of 200mm to 250mm in length, 32 to 38 microns. Due to the long, fast growing fleece, Leicester Longwool sheep have to be shorn twice a year which is more than other sheep for wool production. The fleece weighs about 4.5kg to 6.8kg with some weighing as much as 9kg. Yarns made with Leicester sheep wool are more durable than those made with fine wool. Leicester Longwool bred wool has a higher lustre than any of the fine or medium wool breeds. Leicester Longwool sheep are relatively hardy, however, prefer low temperature climates. In addition, they are among the best sheep for wool because of their efficient performance in crossbreed systems. Furthermore, due to their large carcass, they can be used for meat production.
The Lincoln is usually referred to as the world’s largest breed of sheep. Lincoln sheep originated in Lincolnshire more than 5000 years ago. They are rather rectangular in form, deep bodied, and show great width. They sometimes lack fullness through the leg and appear somewhat upstanding when in short fleece. Lincoln sheep can either be completely white or coloured including shades of black, charcoal, grey and silver. They are usually polled. Lincoln sheep are large sized; rams weigh approximately 113kg to 160kg and ewes weigh around 90kg to 113kg. They have a long, heavy and course fleece which weighs about 5,4kg to 9kg with fibre diameter of 41 to 33.5 microns. Yield ranges between 65% and 80%. Lincoln sheep are shorn twice a year. This is done to yield more manageable spinning lengths of between 3½ and 5 inches. Although coarse and somewhat hair-like, the fleece has a considerable lustre. Their long and heavy fleece often causes wool blindness and so should be trimmed from time to time. The Lincoln breed is quite hardy and thrives in a range of climatic conditions.
Debouillet sheep are considered to be among the best sheep for wool. They originate in New Mexico from a cross breed of Delaine-Merino and Rambouillet breeds. Debouillet sheep have white hair on the face and legs. Ewes are polled and rams can either be polled or horned. This breed is characterised by its strong and hardy nature. Debouillet sheep are well adapted for a range of weather patterns. They are able to thrive solely on grazing producing high quality fine-wool fleece with a deep, close crimp. For this reason, they are highly famed as one of the best sheep for wool production and are recommended to farmers seeking to practice this form of sheep farming. Despite their superior foraging skills, it is advisable to provide a well-balanced feed which is essential for a healthy flock. Debouillet sheep come in various sizes, from medium to large. A mature ram weight around 79kg to 113kg and ewes weigh 57g to 73kg. The fleece from mature ewes weighs about 4.5kg to 8kg with a 35% to 50% yield. The stable length of the fleece ranges from 7.5cm to 12.5 cm with a numerical count of 62 to 80 which is 18.5 to 23.5 microns. Owing to its fine quality, Debouillet sheep wool has a high market value hence it is very profitable.