Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Homestead: Sheepish...Part 1!

Now its back to work...I had been posting articles about homestead animal selection and suitable critters for your new adventure. Then the land sale/search drama nightmare came into play.

I have decided to take my mind off that for a bit and get back to work on the Homestead series which I am very much enjoying doing.

I make calendars for us at Christmas...these calendars are like small reference books. Each month is a type of tree in the tree calendars, pigs in the pig calendar and now I have done myself a sheep calendar for 2015. [Ralph got a tree assortment 2015 calendar].

Here is my Sheep assortment. 14 breeds that I think are all well suited to small farming.

  Barbados Blackbelly  
Barbados Blackbelly sheep combine the rare attributes of adaption to widespread environments and high reproductive efficiency, which account for their average of two lambs per litter and an average lambing interval of eight to nine months.
Mature Barbados Blackbelly ewes have a high prolifically. Studies have shown the average lambing rate to range between 1.50 to 2.30 lambs per ewe lambing.
Body weights of yearling ewes are variable due partly to the tendency to breed and lamb as ewe lambs (<12 months old), and depending whether pregnant at the time of weighing. Most weigh 80 to 90 pounds, with mature ewes 100 pounds, and rams 105 to 125 pounds.
Carcass studies of 5 to 7 month old male lambs sent to slaughter show that Barbados Blackbelly lambs have much less body fat than do other comparable sheep breeds.
  • Fat over the ribeye muscle  at the twelfth rib averages 1.5 to 2 mm compared to 5 to 6 mm on similarly reared Suffolk or Dorset crosses.
  • Kidney and kidney fat as a percentage of carcass weight is 0.75 to 1% as compared to 2.5 to 3% or more for Suffolk and Dorset crosses.
  • Marbling in the rib-eye muscle and feathering between the ribs (intramuscular fat) is less evident than in regular (wooled) market lambs. Since USDA grade is strongly influenced by feathering, Barbados Blackbelly tend to grade medium to high good, rather than choice.
  • Muscling is less well developed than in "improved'' meat breeds of sheep, but rib-eye areas per 50 pounds carcass weight of the ribeye muscle at the twelfth rib are above those of the average market lamb. These measure 2.0 to 2.4 square inches in surface area. Part of this advantage is due to small carcass weight, commonly 30 to 40 pounds, and to lower percentage of fat in the carcass.
Flavor of the meat is excellent, being much milder than in our usual market lambs. This is probably due to less fatness, since the characteristic flavor of lamb meat is primarily in the fat.
Ram lamb gains as measured by weight per day of age 5 to 7 months are .40 to .45 pounds per day when fed on rations of alfalfa hay and wheat with a mineral supplement. These gains are perhaps 60 to 70% of the normal expected gain for wooled sheep on similar rations.
Barbados Blackbelly sheep are considered to be resistant to the effects of internal parasites. In many parts of the U.S., no deworming is necessary when adequate pasture rotation and good husbandry are employed. These sheep are also resistant to most of the sheep diseases that can easily decimate unvaccinated wooled flocks. Thus, it is much easier to raise Barbados Blackbelly sheep without chemical intervention, making them popular with breeders serving organic and ethnic markets. 


  Bluefaced Leicester 

The average weight for mature rams is approximately 250 lbs (115 kg) with The Bluefaced Leicester is of the English Longwool type and originated near Hexham in the county of Northumberland, England during the early 1900's. The breed was originally developed to use in the production of high quality crossbred ewes which were pastures in the neighboring hills of the region. They originated from Border Leicester individuals selected for the blue face (white hairs on black skin) and finer fleeces. They are found primarily in Northern England, Scotland and Wales. adult ewes weighing 175 lbs (80 kg). The prolificacy of the breed is good with the lambing percentage from mature ewes being reported to range from 220 to 250 percent. The wool is classed as demi-luster and fine. The average fleece weight is 2 to 4.5 pounds (1-2 kg), staple length is 8 to 15 cm and quality is 56's to 60's. These wool qualities appear to be passed on to the crossbred offspring. 



The Corriedale was developed in New Zealand and Australia during the late 1800s' from crossing Lincoln or Leicester rams with Merino females. The development of the breed occurred in New Zealand during the time from 1880 to 1910.  Similar crosses were also being done in Australia during this time.  The breed is now distributed worldwide, making up the greatest population of all sheep in South America and thrives throughout Asia, North America and South Africa. Its popularity now suggests it is the second most significant breed in the world after Merinos.
The Corriedale is a dual-purpose sheep. It is large-framed, polled with good carcass quality.  Although its role has traditionally been to produce premium lambs when mated to sires of meat breeds, the Corriedale is now achieving comparative performance rates with purebred lambs. This bonus together with a high skin value secures its future as a popular breed.
The Corriedale produces bulky, high-yielding wool ranging from 31.5 to 24.5 micron fiber diameter. The fleece from mature ewes will weigh from 10 to 17 pounds (4.5-7.7 kg) with a staple length of 3.5 to 6 inches (9-15 cm).  The yield percent of the fleece ranges from 50 to 60 percent.  Mature rams will weigh from 175 to 275 pounds (79-125 kg), ewe weights range from 130 to 180 pounds (59-81 kg).
The breed was first imported into the United States in 1914.  They are well adapted to farm flock situations where abundant feed is available but may also be used in range situations.


The exact history of the Dorset sheep is found wanting for some positive record of origin. History does tell us that centuries ago, Spain wished to conquer England, and possibly during this time, the Merino sheep were brought into Southwest England and were crossed with the Horned Sheep of Wales, which produced a desirable all-purpose sheep which met the needs of that time. Thus began a breed of sheep which spread over Dorset, Somerset, Devon, and most of Wales and were called Horned Dorsets. In the USA they are called Dorset.
Dorsets in America, in a publication called Sheep Industry in the United States, written by Ezra Carmen, H, A. Heath, and John Minton, all of whom were Oregon pioneers living in the Salem, OR area, we learn of Dorsets being in Oregon in 1860. These shipments were brought to the West Coast from England by the Hudson Bay Shipping Company and the first Dorsets were brought over for Mr. Richard Scott of Milwaukee, OR, in 1860. The first Dorsets on the East Coast were brought from England in 1885 and exhibited at the American Fat Stock Show in Chicago. Other early importers between 1887 and 1891 were: William Daley, Lockport, NY; E. F. Bowditch, Framingham, MA; T. S. Cooper, Coopersburg, PA; J, L. Henderson & Son, Washington, PA, and Tranquility Farms, Allamuchy, NJ.
Dorset ewes weigh from 150 to 200 pounds at maturity, some in show condition may very well exceed this weight, Dorset rams weigh from 225 to 275 pounds at maturity. Dorsets are one of the few breeds that carry the "out-of-season" breeding characteristic. The ewes are good mothers, good milkers and multiple births are not uncommon. Dorsets work well in commercial situations both in the ewe flock and from a terminal sire aspect.



Icelandic sheep

The Icelandic sheep are of medium size with mature ewes weighing 150-160 lbs. and rams 200-220 lbs. They are fine boned with open face and legs and udders. The breed has both polled and horned individual of both sexes but it is primarily horned. Icelandic sheep are not particularly tall but broad and have an excellent conformation as a meat breed. They are seasonal breeders, the ewes start to come into heat around early November, lasting through April. By early October the mature rams develop a distinct odor which stimulates breeding activity in the ewes. The odor remains with the rams through the breeding season. This smell will also have an adverse effect on meat quality if mature rams are slaughtered during that period
The breed is famous for its wool around the world, but in Iceland it is bred almost exclusive for meat. More than 80% of the income from them in Iceland is from meat. Though the lambs are born small, they grow fairly fast. On good pastures they should reach 80-90 lbs in 4-5 months, at which time they are weaned. The average growth rate is 250-300 g/day (10-12 oz/day). These lambs are not fed any extra grain or creep feed but are slaughtered straight off mountain pastures. Dressing percentage is around 45%. The meat are fine grained and has excellent flavor.

Even though the wool counts for little of the income from sheep in Iceland (less than 15%) it is the wool for which they are know. The fleece has an inner and outer coat typical of the more primitive breeds with the fine undercoat being called Thel) and the long, coarser outercoat called Tog. The fleeces are open and not very greasy. The average fleece weighs 4-5 lbs. in grease. Due to the length of fiber, the openness of the wool, the natural colors and the versatility, fleeces are usually sold through specialty markets to handspinners. The thel is down like, springy, lustrous and soft. The longer tog coat is similar to mohair, wavy or corkscrewed rather than crimped and is wonderful in worsted spinning.


Jacob Sheep

The Jacob sheep is indeed a unique breed in America. Slight of build, with the narrow, lean carcass typical of some of the ancient British breeds, they are immediately noticeable due to their black and white fleeces and prominent horns. Both males and females are horned, sporting two, four and occasionally six horns. Most striking to many people are four-horned rams with two vertical center horns as much as two feet long, and two side horns curling down along the side of the head. Two-horned rams develop the more familiar classic double curl. Horns on the ewe are always shorter and more delicate than the rams' horns.
The Jacob fleece, which is properly described as white with black spots, is prized by hand spinners and weavers. The white and the black wool, which may fade at the tips to dark brown, may be blended to various shades of greys. The wool is of medium grade, and interestingly, the black wool, which grows out of black skin, frequently is shorter than the white wool, which grows from white skin. Ideally, the animal should be 40% black and 60% white, with certain characteristic patterns. The legs should be predominantly white, with black hooves and black knees and hocks desirable. The desired Jacob face is frequently referred to as "badger faced', with black cheeks and muzzle, but a white blaze down the front of the face. The nose should be black as well as the horns and ears.

The Jacob is an old, unimproved breed. As a result, it is slight in build, with ewes averaging only about 100 to 120 pounds. Typical fleeces will weigh only three or four pounds, and may vary quite a bit in coloring, crimp, and fineness. Jacob breeders take great delight in the personalities of their animals; some believe that the lack of breeding improvement is responsible for preserving a more goat-like curiosity and agility.


Karakul Sheep

The Karakul may be the oldest breed of domesticated sheep. Archaeological evidence indicates the existence of the Persian lambskin as early as 1400 B.C. and carvings of a distinct Karakul type have been found on ancient Babylonian temples. Although known as the "fur" sheep, the Karakul provided more than the beautifully patterned silky pelts of the young lambs. They were also a source of milk, meat, tallow, and wool, a strong fiber that was felted into fabric or woven into carpeting.

The harsh conditions under which they evolved has given them strong and lasting teeth, a key to their longevity. They are resistant to internal parasites and foot rot. While they respond to good feed and care, they are excellent foragers and will go through a season of scant food or graze marginal land in which ordinary sheep would not survive. Karakuls withstand extremes of either hot or cold but they should have access to dry cover and be kept out of marshy pastures.

The Karakuls differ radically in conformation from many other breeds. They are of the fat broadtailed type of sheep. In their large tail is stored fat, a source of nourishment, similar in function to the camel's hump. The narrow appendage below this fat sack is often recurved, giving an S shape. Karakuls are medium-size sheep. The rams will weigh between 175-225 pounds and the ewes range from 100-150 pounds. They stand tall, with a long, narrow body. The top line is highest at the loin with the rump long and sloping, blending into a low set broadtail. 


These are the first 7 breeds I researched and to be honest I think they all would work for us....some more than others. I learned some interesting things too. Like the fact the Icelandic which is so noted for its fine wool here in North America is more prized for its fine quality meat in Iceland!

I hope you find this breed list useful and next post will see the remaining Calendar Sheep. 

Sheep are so versatile with the ability to produce Milk,Meat and Fiber for your homestead. What a marvelous animal they are! 



  1. Well, I can speak for Icelandics. I love my Icelandics! They are a great breed for a single farmer - small, hearty, good mothers and with easy lambing (in my experience). They are also a great milking sheep, if that also fits into your needs. I was reluctant to bring my sheep breeding to a halt but, if the right farm and farmhand come into my life when I retire, then I will start again.

  2. Have you ever milked a sheep? We got some sheep cheese that was incredible and I was wondering.....