Sheep farming is an agricultural activity that has been in practise for over thousands of years. Over the past years, sheep farming for meat production has been on the rise due to the increasing demand for lamb and mutton meat. As such, when seeking to venture in this form of agriculture, knowledge of various sheep breeds is an asset that will determine the success of the venture. The most common breeds for meat production are hairy sheep breeds. They are termed ‘hairy’ due to their poor wool production. Hairy sheep breeds have little or no wool; they have a hair coat similar to that of goats. These breeds are praised for their fast growth rate and fairly large carcass sizes. Some hairy sheep breeds grow a winter coat and so thrive in areas with low temperatures.
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Dorper Sheep Breeds
Dorper Sheep were developed around the 1930s in South Africa. This breed is a result of cross breeding the Dorset Horn and Blackhead Persian sheep. Dorper sheep are medium in size and mainly white in colour. They can either have a white or a black face and both rams and ewes are polled. These type of hairy sheep breeds have wool in addition to hair covering their bodes but is does not need to be sheared. They often shed their wool in late summer spring. Dorper sheep are popular for their thick muscled carcass. They tend to grow faster weighing about 36kg in just 3 to 4 months. This ensures a high quality carcass of about 17 to 18 kg. Their average daily gain is aproximately 81 to 91g per day under extensive conditions. Dorper sheep breeds are generally hardy therefore thrive in different climatic environments. They have a thick skin that protects them from bad weather. Their skin can be used as a secondary source of income as it is the most sought after sheep skin. In fact, the skin comprises about 20% of the overall carcass value. An additional benefit of selecting this breed is because of its extended period of fertlity which is a sought after feature among farmers.
Wiltshire Horn Sheep Breed
This breed originated from Wiltshire, southern England. The Wiltshire Horn sheep is a medium to large sized breed that is white in colour with occasional black spots on the undercoat. Wiltshire Horn, as the name suggests, are a horned breed. The horns of ram sheep tend to grow one full spiral yearly until reaching maturity. Wiltshire Horn sheep are among hairy sheep breeds. The average weight of the mature Wiltshire Horn ram is around 110 kg, and the ewes weight about 68 kg. They grow a thick, coarse coat during winter seasons and shed it in the summer. This breed is known for its fast growth rate and early maturity. Under ideal environments, Wiltshire Horn sheep can reach slaughter weight in just 16 weeks. This however depends on quality nutrition and good management to meet its potential. Wiltshire sheep breeds are hardy, self-sufficient and have excellent maternal ability. They excel in cross breeding imparting both size and vigour to their offspring. In addition, they are quite fertile often producing twins and in some cases triplets.
Katahdin Sheep Breed
The Katahdin is a hairy sheep breed that was developed during the early 1950s in Maine, United States and named after Mount Katahdin. Katahdin sheep were created as a means to have affordable sheep breeds that are still highly productive. A variety of breeds contributed in the superior traits possessed by Katahdin sheep. Their hardness and warm hair coat are owed to Virgin Islands; Suffolk and Wiltshire Horn breeds were used to improve carcass quality and size. Mature Katahdin ewes weigh about 55 to 72kg and rams anywhere between 82 to 114kg. Although lambs tend to lag behind other breeds in terms of maturity timeframes, they are able to produce good quality meat. This breed is known for its hardy and well adaptable nature. Katahdin sheep are able to thrive in both warm and low climatic conditions. They grow a winter coat that protects them from frost. They naturally shed their winter coat on the onset of the warm season. Some farmers favour this breed as it demonstrates greater parasite resistance compared to most breeds.
Royal White Sheep Breeds
Royal White sheep are fairly new and still undergoing research through agricultural programs in various institutions. They were developed in Texas, United States of America by crossing the St Croix with the Dorper sheep which both fall under hairy sheep breeds. The result is a large sized all white breed. Royal White sheep are usually polled and grow a longer hair coat during the cold season. Similar to such breeds, they shed the winter coat in spring. Royal White rams weigh anywhere between 84 to 107kg and ewes around 80 to 95kg. They produce carcass with a high yield of about 54% meat at a weight of 50 kg. The lambs are fast-growing, vigorous and lean. Their meat is of superior quality; it is tender with a mild sweet flavour. An upside to keeping this breed is that it is very hardy and resistant to most diseases.
American Blackbelly Sheep Breed
American Blackbelly is a hairy sheep breed that was developed by primarily crossing Mouflon and Barbados Blackbelly. The breed is easily identifiable by their distinctive hair coat in a range of tan, brown to red, with dramatic black markings. American Blackbelly sheep are known for their well-muscled legs and backs as well as their good body stature. Mature ewes weigh about 45kg whereas rams weigh approximately 65kg. Although they are quite small in stature in comparison to other breeds, they produce a fair amount of meat that is of superior quality. The American Blackbelly is desired for its productivity and thriftiness, great prolificacy, and fairly low maintenance. The breed is well adapted to varied climates as they grow a protective coat in winter. They often shed this coat during the spring. Another benefit of keeping American Blackbelly sheep is that they are resistant to most diseases and parasites.
Barbados Blackbelly Sheep Breeds
Barbados Blackbelly sheep are also among hairy sheep breeds. As the name suggests, this breed was developed in the island of Barbados in the Caribbean. It is also referred to as Barbados Barriga Nigra or simply as Black Belly. The breed is reddish brown or tan on the body, with black on the belly and legs. Rams have a mane of thick hair that extends down the neck and brisket and may cover the shoulder. Barbados Blackbelly sheep are small in stature with rams weighing in at 45 to 59kg and ewes about 39 to 45kg. Due to their small size, they tolerate heat well compared to most large sized sheep breeds. Barbados Blackbelly reproduce non-seasonally. They are able to breed and lamb through the year producing twins as well as triplets. In addition, they are excellent foragers therefore do not require a heavy investment in feed. Blackbelly sheep are also resistant to most common diseases hence are preferred by some farmers.