Common Breeds of Sheep

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Common Breeds of Sheep
Breeds of sheep may be classified on several different factors, including;

  1. their suitability for mutton or wool production

  2. white face or black face

  3. horned or polled

  4. type of wool produced

  5. or the area in which they originated

The most common classification of sheep is based on types of wool. The table below shows these classes and the common breeds of sheep for each wool type.

Fine-wool Medium-wool Long-wool Crossbred

Merino Cheviot Cotswold Columbia

Debouillet Dorset Leicester Corriedale

Rambouillet Hampshire Lincoln Targhee

Oxford Romney



The Karakul is the only major fur-wool type sheep. They are raised and slaughtered primarily for their hide; of course the meat is also consumed.

Common Breeds of Sheep
Fine-wool Breeds
Merino – First imported to the U.S. from Spain in 1793
The Merino sheep is a white-faced sheep with white legs, and the head and legs are covered with wool. Most rams are horned, but a few polled strains exist. The ewes are polled.

Mature rams weigh 150-200 lbs and ewes weigh from 110 to 150 lbs. Merinos are extremely hardy and ewes are noted for long, productive lives.

The wool production of the Merino is outstanding in both quantity and quality. The fleece weight of these sheep is from 6 to 14 lbs.
Debouillet – This breed was developed by A.D. Jones of Roswell New Mexico, by crossing Merino rams on Rambouillet ewes.
The Debouillet was developed under practical range conditions and they do an acceptable job of wool and mutton production under adverse conditions.

They are open-faced, with white face and legs.

Rams may be horned or polled. Ewes are polled.

Rams generally weigh from 150 to 250 lbs, ewes 125 to 170 lbs.

The fleece production is uniform in grade, with a clip weight of 8 to 16 lbs.
Rambouillet – developed as a breed in France, but a descendant of the Spanish Merino. They were first imported into the U.S. in 1840.
Rambouillet has large, wide heads with white hair around the nose and ears. Wool covers most of the face and legs.

Rams are horned, ewes are polled.

Rambouillets are the largest fine-wool breed, with rams weighing 190-300 lbs and ewes 120-200 lbs.

Ewes are prolific, good mothers and unequalled at foraging in range conditions. A large percentage of open range sheep carry some Rambouillet blood.

The fleece clip averages 7 to 14 lbs.
Medium-wool Breeds
Cheviot – Cheviot sheep originated in the Cheviot Hills border country between England and Scotland. The first Cheviot was imported to the U.S. in 1838.

The Cheviot is one of the smaller breeds of sheep and one of the most distinctive in appearance. It is a very attractive breed with the head carried high; erect ears and a quick, coordinated stride. There is no wool on the head or face in front of the ears, nor below the knees and hocks. The head, face and legs are covered with white hair and the nose, lips and feet are black.

Both rams and ewes are polled.

Rams will weigh 200-275 lbs, ewes 150-225 lbs.

Cheviot ewes are good mothers, averaging about a 125% lamb crop.

Fleece clip is light however, averaging 5 to 8 lbs.

Dorset – This breed was developed in Dorset and Somerset counties in southern England. They were first imported into the U.S. in 1885.
The face, ears and legs are white in color and almost completely free of wool. A unique feature of the breed is that there are both horned and polled strains and within the horned strain even the ewes are horned.

The Dorset is medium sized, with rams weighing 150-225 lbs and ewes 120-190 lbs.

Dorset ewes will breed all year long and they are prolific, averaging a 150% lamb crop.

Fleece clip averages 4 to 10 lbs.

Hampshire – The Hampshire breed originated in Hampshire County England, with several importations to the U.S. made prior to 1860.

Hampshire’s are one of the more popular breeds in the U.S. today.

They are distinctive in appearance, with a bold head, and prominent ears.

The face, ears and legs of Hampshire’s are a rich deep brown, almost black.

Both rams and ewes are polled, although rams sometimes have scurs.

Hampshire’s are among the largest of the medium wool breeds, with rams weighing 170 to 275 lbs and ewes 135 to 215 lbs.

Hampshire ewes are prolific and possess good mothering ability.

The fleece is of medium quality, averaging 7 to 8 lbs.

Oxford – The Oxford breed originated in Oxford County England. It was a result of crossing Cotswold’s and Hampshire’s. They were first imported into the U.S. in 1846.

The head and ears are small in size compared to the body size. The face, ears and legs will vary in color from gray to brown.

Both rams and ewes are polled.

The Oxford is the largest of the medium-wool breeds, with rams weighing 200 to 275 lbs and ewes 150 to 225 lbs. The breed also produces the heaviest fleece, averaging 8 to 12 lbs.

Oxford ewes are prolific and lambing percentages of 150% are not uncommon.
Shropshire – The Shropshire breed was developed in Shropshire and Stafford Counties in England. It is the result of blending several breeds of sheep, including the Southdown, the Leicester and the Cotswold. They were first imported into the U.S. to Virginia in 1855.

The face, ears, and legs range in color between a dark brown and a soft black.

Both rams and ewes are polled and dense wool covers the poll and face.

They are one of the smallest of the medium-wool breeds, with rams weighing 150 to 225 lbs and ewes 120 to 170 lbs.

They are considered a good dual purpose breed because they produce a very good carcass and a wool clip that averages 9 lbs.
Southdown – The Southdown breed originated in the hills of Sussex County, England. They were first imported into the U.S. in 1803.
The face and legs are covered with wool. Both Rams and Ewes are polled, although rams frequently have scurs.

The Southdown is a small breed of sheep, with rams weighing 150-200 lbs and ewes 100-140 lbs.

They have been bred for their excellent carcass and no other breed surpasses the Southdown in excellence of carcass conformation.

However, their fleece clip averages only 3 to 8 lbs.

Suffolk – The Suffolk breed originated in England from crossing Southdown rams and Old Norfolk ewes native to the area. The Suffolk was first imported into the U.S. in 1888.
The Suffolk is easily identified by its black face, legs and ears, which are entirely free from wool. The head is small and both rams and ewes are polled.

Suffolk’s are fairly large, with the rams weighing 200-350 lbs and the ewes 150-260 lbs.

The ewes are very prolific, producing a 150% or greater lamb crop.

Fleece weight averages 5-8 lbs.

Long-wool Breeds
Leicester – The Leicester originated in Leicester County in central England. They were first brought to the United States prior to 1770.
The face and legs of the Leicester are free of wool and white in color. Both rams and ewes are polled.

They are medium sized, with the rams weighing 225-250 lbs and the ewes 175-200 lbs.

Leicester ewes are NOT very prolific, and the breed has been used primarily for crossbreeding in the United States.

The fleece of the Leicester is of high quality, especially for a long-wool breed, and is carried in fine spiral locks.

The fleece clip averages 9-12 lbs.
Lincoln – The Lincoln breed originated in Lincoln County on the eastern coast of England. They were first imported into the United States in the late 1700’s.

The Lincoln is often referred to as the largest breed of sheep. Adult Rams will typically weigh 250 to 300 lbs and ewes 175 to 250 lbs.

The ewes are fairly prolific and have been successfully used in crossbreeding and in developing new breeds.

The fleece is carried in heavy locks, often twisting into spirals. They produce the heaviest and coarsest fleeces of the long-wool breeds and will clip 12-20 lbs.

Romney – The Romney originated in the marshy area of Kent County, England. The breed was first imported into the U.S. in 1904.
The color of the face, ears and legs is white. They are a medium sized breed, with rams weighing 225-250 lbs and ewes 120 to 200 lbs.

Romney ewes are average in prolificacy and are good milkers.

Romney ewes cross well with rams of other breeds

Their fleece clip will generally weigh 10-12 lbs.

Crossbred-wool Breeds
Columbia – The Columbia is the first breed of sheep developed in the United States. Lincoln rams were crossed on Rambouillet ewes. The first crosses were made on the King Ranch at Laramie, Wyoming. The breed was official started by the Bureau of Animal Industry in 1917.

The Columbia is open faced, with white hair on the face and around the feet.

Both rams and ewes are polled.

The Columbia is the largest of the crossbred-wool breeds and is well suited to western range conditions.

Rams will weigh 175 to 300 lbs, while ewes will weigh 130 to 200 lbs.

They produce a good fleece clip, averaging 10-18 lbs.

Corriedale – The Corriedale breed was developed in New Zealand in 1880 from a combination of the Merino, Lincoln and Leicester breeds. The first Corriedales were imported into the U.S. in 1914.
The Corriedale is open faced and the face, ears and legs are white.

The Corriedale is a hardy breed and a very good producer of wool and mutton. Corridales are an early maturing breed.

Rams will weigh 150 to 200 lbs and ewes 105 to 205 lbs.

They have an excellent fleece and the annual wool clip will average 8 to 17 lbs.

Targhee – The Targhee was developed in Dubois, Idaho at the United States Sheep Experiment Station. It was started in 1926, using a combination of Rambouillets, Corriedales, and Lincolns.
They were developed as a breed representing approximately 1/4th long-wool breeding and 3/4ths fine-wool breeding. They get their name from the Targhee National Forest.

Both rams and ewes are polled. They are white faced and medium sized.

Rams will weigh 175 to 235 lbs and ewes 120 to 160 lbs.

They yield heavy fleeces, averaging 11 to 15 lbs.

Fur-bearing Breeds
Karakul – The Karakul is a fur-bearing breed of sheep native to the country of Bokhara in the former Soviet Union. They were first imported in 1909, by Dr. C.C. Young of Belen, Texas.
They have a long, narrow brown or black face, long drooping ears and black or brown legs.

Rams are horned, but ewes are polled.

They are medium sized with rams weighing 175 to 225 lbs and ewes 135 to 160 lbs.
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