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What Breed of Sheep?


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Since I'm not in a place to own/raise sheep at the moment, I thought I'd get a head start on my facts. I started this thread to get an idea of what kind of sheep everyone breeds/owns, and I'd like to know a bit about how they fair in your climate and how hard the upkeep is.


In the future I'd like to own sheep, and I'm looking for a breed to research now. I live around the DE/NJ/PA area, so animals who thrive in that seasonal climate would be more valuable to me than not.


Of course, if you live in a different area of the world, I'm still very interested. I want to learn as much as possible!


1) Breed?

2) Where you live and/or climate.

3) What type? I hear about "woolies" and "hairs" all the time. Still a bit confused about these terms...

4) Upkeep? (Do they fare well? Are they more difficult to breed/raise/groom etc.?)


Any other advice/info is appreciated. Thank you for putting up with my ignorance :) .

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I'm in SoCal, so southwest--warm, dry mostly. I have Dorpers, and I love them! They are a hair sheep, so grow a short bit of wool in the "winter," but shed it in the warm months. They are great as far as lambs gaining weight quickly if you have decent feed for them. They tend to get a bit on the heavy side for working with dogs, but don't seem to ever get tired. They are good keepers. I guess it depends on your goals--do you just want to keep a handful for working dogs, or are you planning on selling lamb or wool, or both? I decided that since I was going to keep sheep for working dogs, I might as well make them into a decent flock with a goal--selling lamb. It has worked out very well for me. I've recently cut down from over 200 to just over 100 ewes...


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Short answer, "hair" sheep are breeds that shed out most of their wool, while "wool" breeds have to be sheared. That's the only "grooming" really required.

If one simply wants sheep to work their dogs and keep some weeds down, hair breeds may be somewhat easier for the fact that you don't have to pay a shearer to come out each year. Depending where you live, sometimes shearers can be hard to find. Plus, if one lives in a hot climate as I do, hair sheep may be hardier for training purposes. Here in Nevada and California, trainers often keep hair breeds such as Dorper, St Croix, Katahdin or some mix thereof.

Wool breeds can be nice if one doesn't mind the shearing aspect, because then you can not only sell lamb for meat but also sell the wool. Plus, some wool sheep can tend to stay fresher longer, so they may not get as tame as fast, when worked by dogs. But upkeep of wool sheep does make yearly shearing an absolute must.

With any breed you'll want to make sure their feet stay in good shape and they may need to be trimmed once or twice a year.

Before buying sheep, though, one should always talk to people who have actually owned and worked with various breeds before buying anything, especially if working dogs is your prime consideration. Within both the hair and wool varieties, there are breeds that are better for some things than others.

For example, Barbados sheep shed out slick as seals, but they're quite light, often act more like deer and can be great escape artists. If they're crossed with something else, like Dorper or Katahdin, then you may get a more calm hair sheep. Shetlands meanwhile are good wool sheep, hardy and small, but they're infamous for not flocking together real well and can be difficult to handle if they are of too feral of a mindset. Suffolk are primarily a meat breed, but they do need sheared and can be difficult to handle because they don't always flock well and can get pretty darned big. It seems to depend on the flock, how Suffolk behave.

Sometimes the best sheep to keep for dogs aren't a particular breed at all, but rather crossbreds that come from a flock you like, raised by someone whose sheep you admire.

There. I'm sure that was no help at all. ;)

~ Gloria

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We are in NW Wa, fairly wet for a good portion of the year. We are new to working sheep with dogs, but have had sheep off and on about 30 years.


Growing up we had Suffolk and have one Suffolk cross ewe now, although she's on borrowed time. I have found them to be too big to deal with and we have had issues with their feet holding up well in the moist climate.


We now have about 5 Cheviot cross ewes that we have to shear and rest of the flock are Katahdin or Katahdin crosses. By second generation they begin to shed, although it will sometimes be patchy. I like the Cheviots, they aren't as big as the Suffolk and have nice tame personalities.


I've really enjoyed the addition of the Katahdins, the color range is fun to watch in the pastures, they are good mothers, and easy keepers. But they are definitely slower growing than the Suffolk were.


If you are thinking about getting into sheep for your dog, I would definitely suggest investing the money in sheep that have been worked, unless you are very comfortable with stockdogs. Not necessarily puppy sheep, but those that know what a dog is. Nothing more frusturating than being a novice handler with a young dog and have a field full of sheep that think 'coyote' and lose their minds when they see you heading out with the dog. Trust me :) Dog breaking sheep can be sort of nerve racking, eventually my trainer came out with one of her dogs and worked mine to show me how to handle things when the sheep lost it, but it was pretty stressful trying to figure out on my own.


Have fun planning!

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I am in SW VA and have kept all sorts of breeds! My favorite for working dogs are wool sheep. To me, they tend to hold up to dog work better than the hair sheep, who can quickly become sour or dog-wise if over-worked. That can be true for any breed that is treated unfairly, but to me, hair sheep break faster. I really like cheviot crosses, and my favorite to date have been Dorset x cheviot cross. However, I now am running Suffolks and absolutely adore them. Others may disagree, but as an owner and vet, I've found the blackface breeds to need a little more upkeep than other wool breeds. For instance, my lambs are on excellent pasture right now and still need grain to keep weight on. But this spring, they dwarfed my hair lambs of the same age. A couple years ago I had some lambs who had run in the Bluegrass (they were from CO by way of TX). They were great sheep, great to work and great producers. They ate me out of house and home, though.


I know I'm in the heart of hair sheep land, but I've not had good luck with them. There are flocks of commercial hair sheep out there that perform really well. They are large framed and do fine on just pasture. I've not been lucky enough to own any of those! In my experience, they are more heat tolerant for dog work and have good stamina.


I've had Scottish blackface sheep who I find to be absolutely beautiful animals. They were the smartest sheep I've ever had and were always finding ways out of my neighbor's pasture I grazed them in, and also learned to use the terrain to avoid the dogs (bolting over hills to get out of sight when I sent the dog, hiding in gullies and creek beds, sneaky devils!). I was a little afraid of working with them in close quarters (in the barn, on the trailer) because they were flighty, unpredictable, and horned. Good jumpers! But gosh are they pretty :)


When it comes down to it, I just like sheep, period. They all have different temperaments and individuals can have quite the personality if you get to know them. If you can go, the PA Farm Show is a huge agricultural fair in Harrisburg each January. There are many sheep showing there and you can walk through the barns, talk to the producers, and get up close and personal with the animals. Another great event is the MD Sheep and Wool Festival held in May. Show sheep are a little different than many commercial sheep, but it's a good way to see lots of breeds. If you can find people in your area, see if you can start making connections, visiting farms, asking questions, that sort of thing. And have fun!

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Thanks for the responses guys :) . I just wanted to let everyone know that by not owning sheep in the near future, I mean around 5+ years. I'd love to start now, but I'm not in a good position. Still, though, it's fun to research and plan!


I'm making a list of each of the sheep breeds you guys have posted about and I'm researching them. Again, thanks for the responses.


Also, Gloria, thank you for clearing that up.

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I started out with some culled sheep, which gave me access to a few breeds as I was growing my flock.


I had 3 Cheviot ewes. What I had were the smaller Border or hill Cheviots, as opposed to the larger North Country Cheviots. Although they were good mothers I had no desire to get any more of them. They were ornery and fast, wanting little to do with humans. One had trouble lambing once and I literally had to lay across her to pull the lamb; there was no way she was going to cooperate in letting me help her.


One Suffolk. Ornery in a different way. Again, no desire to have any more. Had to watch my back around her as she'd knock me off my feet any chance she got. Not enough to evaluate the breed as a whole, but enough to put me off them. LOL


Dorsets were much easier to get along with. Good mothers, produced well and lambed without help and bred out of season. Good for both wool and meat production.


Wintered someone's small flock of Corriedales one winter and used her ram, so ended up with quite a few Dorset/Corriedale crosses. The Corriedales were also good mothers, lambed easily and without help, good wool. Pretty docile and easiest of all to get along with in general.


The Dorset/Corriedale crosses ended up being my favorites. Hardy, higher lambing percentages than straight Corriedales, and more and better quality wool than straight Dorsets and a little more docile. Good meaty lambs. Generally easy to work with, both for dogs and humans. Good mothers, easy lambers. Good offspring with either Dorset or Corriedale ram. If I were able to get back into sheep, I'd probably go with them again.


I also had one Finn/Dorset cross near the end of my shepherding career and liked her. If I were getting back into sheep I'd probably try to introduce some Finn in the mix for colors and multiple lambing. The one I had was easy to work with as well.


I lived in eastern PA, Allentown area. Had good pasture and the sheep were strictly on pasture in the summer, supplemented with hay and grain in the winter. As snow was often deep, they had hay & grain exclusively for several months each year.

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I love my wool sheep. I have tunis, tunis mules (tunis ewes crossed to BFL ram), clun mules (Clun Forest crossed with BFL ram), one Scotch mule (Scottish blackface x BFL), and I have had karakuls, purebred Scottish blackface, border cheviots, and North Country cheviot mules. I've also had dorper x katahdin hair sheep.


Like Emily, I just plain prefer wool sheep, even if they require more upkeep. I prefer a medium size sheep for ease of care, like trimming hooves. (A large sheep, like the BFL ram I had, is just difficult because of size alone, even if they are docile. If I sat him on his butt to trim his hooves, his head was level with mine. Big boy.) One time when I moved I had to sell sheep and I sold my karakul flock. I have always regretted that. They were wonderful sheep, easy to handle (from a human handling standpoint), good mothers, and extremely hardy. They are also quite rare, so finding more won't be easy.


I loved my border cheviots as well. The Scottish blackface were lovely to look at but a pain to manage, and they were also the ones who would cross the pasture to go after a dog if they had lambs, even if we were just crossing the pasture nowhere near them.


Anyway, I lived in NC and VA and I never had a real issue with the heat and humidity although I wouldn't move them around much in the heat of the day. My wool sheep pretty much never became sour to being worked, though I never worked them excessively anyway. My tunis were as parasite resistant as the hair sheep. The blackface breeds (Scottish blackface and my Suffolk ram) seem less parasite resistant than any others. The other breeds all fell somewhere in between.


As others have noted, wool sheep have to be sheared. Finding a shearer can be difficult. You can learn to shear yourself, but it can be time consuming if you don't do it often enough to be able to do it quickly.


My advice would be to start with sheep that are easier to keep (any of the hardier hill breeds of wool sheep; katahdins or dorpers if hair) and then as you gain experience as a shepherd branch out into other breeds (or one breed) that you like. The advantage to my mixed flock is that I have sheep with a variety of personalities and behavior when being worked by dogs. I can mix and match to tailor what I need. I used to keep puppy sheep (dorper crosses) that were great for just starting out in the round pen, or for students. You can assume that if someone else is raising a particular breed in your region that those sheep are suitable for you from a "how will they fare" standpoint.


Lastly, sheep can just be a real pleasure to own. They are individuals, and some will definitely worm their way into your heart. Lambs are a joy to watch. Although I would not try to manage sheep without a dog, I absolutely would keep sheep even if I wasn't training dogs to work them.


My flock is currently residing with a friend, and I really do miss them!



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They are individuals, and some will definitely worm their way into your heart. Lambs are a joy to watch.


Both very true!


I had a set of twins, Dorset/Corriedale cross, as different as night and day. One was practically a pet, always hanging around, nibbling on my clothing. She was always the first to be given worm medicine or any shots 'cause she was always hanging around and never resisted handling.


Her sister OTOH, was a witch. She was always the last to be treated for anything or sheared, because she refused to be handled for any reason whatsoever. She was on my short list to be culled when I reached capacity just because she was she was such a PITA.


I especially miss lambing season. Newborn and young lambs are such fun to watch. I'd sometimes sit outside the pasture just watching them play. I can get quite nostalgic during late winter and spring.

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I currently have Katahdin, Dorper, Katahdin cross, Cheviots, Southdown cross,

2 Minature Southdown, 2 Suffolk and a Hand full of Uncle Dons special Blend(Breed unknown)

I much prefer the Katahdins as mothers but the Dorpers grow quicker

The cheviots are the hardest to handle in my experience they will run over me with out thinking twice

I find if you can be out to watch the lambs first thing in the morning with a fresh brewed cup of coffee. It is about the best way to relax there is


Dan & Tilly

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I prefer the wool breeds for many reasons. My flock (currently about 100 head) are primarily North Country Cheviot-working towards mule sheep as a better commercial type. Adding a nice UK type Suffolk as terminal sire this year.


The hair sheep do not have to be sheared, which is IMHO their only advantage. Kathadins do remain light-and if harassed will often stay very light making it difficult to start young dogs. Dorpers are heavier but, personally I don't' like their slow growth past about 50 lbs and most have a very short loin, meaning very few lamb chops.


Having some back problems recently I purchased a few Babydoll Southdown sheep, I LOVE them for working the dogs, They are a bit 'heavy' but very tiny so I don't' worry about getting run into when starting eager pups. They are poor for heat tolerance, but more than make up for it with the 'cute' factor!. I hope to add more next year and build a small flock of about 20-25 of these for starting my dogs.


I run a grass fed operation, meaning my sheep eat grass only, hence the choice of type of sheep. My Southdown's will get some grain because I will not be keeping them in the bigger pastures primarily due to predator issues and the need to sort them when I want to work the pups. We have currently 4 LGD's, and a donkey for predator control. We have lots of hills and trees with a town a mile down the road and live in an area where people often let their dogs run loose, so predators are a big concern.


We Live in KS so our weather can change greatly in minutes. The NCC have faired quite well and I expect to have to coddle the Southdown's a bit more. Fencing is your friend-you need good fencing. If you get wool sheep you will need someone to shear them and it can be a bit costly. My shearer charges by the head and if a small group (I think under 25 head) there is a 'set up' fee. We

have several people with small groups bring their sheep here on shearing day.

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Sheep are way more interesting and fun than you might imagine. I love watching ours--they are all relatively cunning, but as others have said, the Scottish Blackface are particularly wiley. I love that about them. They do make the dog be right because they will not put up with BS and they read dogs very well. I find the horns useful for catching! Ours don't jump or escape, but I know others have different experiences with them. We also have Tunis (lovely, lovely), Katahdins, and various crosses. Dorpers are nice as well. Personally wouldn't choose suffolks for a variety of reasons. I love Cheviots but they aren't for everyone. I live in MIchigan and our sheep are only grass fed. Important caveat is that we don't lamb here, so nutrition requirements aren't the same as for those who do.


On the wool breeds, there are fine and coarse wool--seems to me that the fine wool breeds are less flocky than the coarse wool breeds. The hair breeds have actual hair--the fibers look really different. They are pretty easy to keep in my experience.


You're in an area with lots of people who have sheep. Start now getting to know them so you have resources for when you have your own. Other people with sheep will often have better info than local vets who just don't see as many sheep. We are lucky to be an "extension flock" for a friend and get a new group of sheep 3-4 times a year. Helps her manage her breeding flock and grow out her lambs and keeps all the sheep fresh. We have one "pet" who is a permanent resident with us. She's a Barbados/katahdin cross. Was a great working sheep for a while but now is far too wise to dogs to be of much use. She is a joy to hang out with, though.

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We live in MD and when we moved here we had katahdins, romneys, and border leicesters. The wool lambs were fun to work but the adults did not stand up to the stress of dog work. Our farm is loaded with cockleburs which ruined every fleece so we sold off our wool sheep. We prefer larger framed katahdins. We have had dorper crosses and found that while they grew faster they got to be heavy for working quickly. Katahdins do dog break quickly. Now that our we have our ewe flock to The numbers we want we will start looking at terminal sires to put more size in our lambs.


Our ewes are good mothers delivery and raising twins and triplets without any or very little help. Their feet seem to do well on this farm. We are selecting for tolerance or worm load, sheep that need to be dewormed more than once or twice a year are culled. They get some grain the last month of gestation and while nursing until the grass comes in, the rest of the time they are on grass or hay. Lambs get to 80Lbs+ in 10 months on grass which our market seems to like.



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It does not matter what I prefer, I am "stuck" with Icelandic sheep, the only breed here.


Same goes for horses, but thank god, not for dogs or I would have to work with the Icelandic sheepdog, a breed that is not worthy of the name.


Icelandic sheep are pretty hardy, and in the summer get by on forage, they roam free (literally). We round them up in the autumn, most people on horse back, the smarter ones accompagnied by border collies ( ;) ).

They are fast and flighty when young, and dog eating battle axes when older (and still fast). They are smart, independent, and don´t have a strong flocking instinct.

I found out the hard way you need a pretty courageous dog here.


But I do love the breed, in my case I did not get sheep for my dogs. I got into border collies because I keep sheep.

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I have border leicesters and katahdins. After having a few different breeds, suffolk, columbia both were too big, and ate way too much. Also had a few cheviot crosses and have worked with cheviot flocks and they really aren't my kind of sheep, way to skittish if they need to be handled for deworming, shearing, hoof trimming. I learned how to spin and knit and wanted something that would fit those needs along with doing better on pasture alone. After doing research and visiting a friends flock I ended up buying some yearling border leicester ewes. I love their long, shiny and curly locks, which are great not only for spinning but for many different crafty things. They tend to be on the heavier side for dog work and know which dogs can move them and which can't, but that is balanced out with my lighter hair sheep. I have katahdins for the meat, as it is very mild tasting and sell it at a local farmer's market.

Decide what purpose your sheep will have with you, that will help you decide what might best fit your needs. Don't just research online, go visit some sheep farms see them live and in person.



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I too needed to wait to start my flock almost two years of research. Most of the advice I received here on the boards was to check out the sheep raised in your area. This should minimize any health issues purchasing the wrong sheep for the pastures or even the weather.


I have purchased a merino mix breed called a cormo. The fleece is beautiful and after my first shearing each fleece was worth $1200. Not bad for a beginner.


They are a little difficult for Keeva to work they don't flock well and can jump really, really high.


But we are taking lessons and she is a blast to work.


Good Luck.


My advice figure out what you want to do. Food, Wool, Trialing.



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I have purchased a merino mix breed called a cormo. The fleece is beautiful and after my first shearing each fleece was worth $1200. Not bad for a beginner.

Okay, I have heard of "the golden fleece" but when this is not a typo, I will move to your area tomorrow and start raising this cross you talk about... :lol:

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You say East Coast - but where?


If you are in New England, you should travel to North Yorkshire, England nest April and discover Swaledale sheep. If I could bring back a pair if twins, I'd do my best to pass them off to Animal Control as Yorkshire Wooldogs (which, of course, always have those horns). Front end mows the lawn; back end fertilizes the lawn; whole seep exercise the bc-mix.


They are hardy - spend most of the year ranging the moors. They are rather small. They regularly produce twins and are (I've been told by Yorkshire farmers) the best sheep mothers in the world.


And there are surely worse ways to spend a fortnight than in Yorkshire in lambing season. The local ales are also the best.

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I don't own sheep - but if I did, I'd buy some from the handler I train my dogs with. Hers are wool sheep, a cross between Border Cheviots and Perendale (the latter being less common, developed in New Zealand from Cheviots and Romneys). She's culled her flock mercilessly - they stand up well to being worked by dogs, they don't tend to do silly things like run into fences at full tilt, they are resistant to parasites, have good hooves (she claims she doesn't know where her hoof trimmers are), are good mothers who usually lamb twins without assistance - everything I'm hoping to find in a starter flock. For sure I can't sell the fleece for $1200 a fleece (that's WAY more than any fleece I've seen sold at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival!). I would hope to be lucky enough to cover the cost of shearing, because I don't think I'd be inclined to "coat" my sheep (put covers on them to keep veg out of their fleeces). We do have a shearer who works locally who will shear small flocks.


Why would I choose these? I mostly want to be able to keep sheep because I like them; because I'd like to be able to spin my own wool (I love to knit); and for the dogs to work. I'd want to cover at least most of my costs, so I'd plan on selling lambs to market. I could probably get more for the fleeces if I chose a breed coveted by handspinners, but then I'd be doing things like coating my sheep, which might be hard on them if they were being worked by dogs on a warm day, or by choosing a breed for its fleece alone (which might result in a less hardy breed or one that soured easily on dogs; alternatively, some breeds are so-called "primitive" sheep, that don't flock well). So, as others have said, figure out why you want to keep sheep - and let the answer point you to different breeds.


A good resource on breeds of sheep is here.

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