A Beginner’s Guide to Sheep Part 2
Let us not get bogged down in names, which are unlikely to remain in memory anyway. When you are in the market for your first flock you will notice two things. First, there are registered animals and unregistered animals. Second, the registered animals are more expensive than the unregistered ones. It is the purpose of some shepherds to keep their flock as much of a pure breed as possible. This means that the animal has a clearly recorded and verified pedigree indicating the percentages of other breeds in their genetic makeup, which should be minimal if any. Purebred sheep can be valuable for many reasons, such as, somewhat ironically, making carefully balanced crossbreeds. Another reason might be the uniqueness of the breed and the need for its preservation as an item of cultural heritage or the unique properties of the wool that they produce. A perfect example of this is Icelandic sheep, which are almost identical in their genetic makeup to those that roamed the icelandic planes over a thousand years ago. You’ll be hard pressed to find a breed purer than that in the world today, which is why it is illegal to import sheep into Iceland.
That, however, does not automatically mean that the purebred sheep are better than the crossbred. In fact, unless you are specifically pursuing a purebred flock, it’s better to keep a crossbred one as they are in no way inferior in terms of the quality of wool or meat they produce or even the levels of productivity. They might actually prove to be more resilient and therefore easier to manage due to something called “heterosis”. This basically means that the crossbred lamb is likely to be superior to each of their individual parents, especially if the parents are a crossbred ram and a crossbred ewe. Crossbreeding also enables you to improve the quality of your flock by crossing breeds that are complementary to each other. In other words, when you get more familiar with the pros and cons of each breed that is available to you, you’ll be able to crossbreed in a way that balances out the weak points and strong points of each breed, increasing the overall quality of the offspring.
So now that you know that there isn’t a perfect breed and crossbreeding is probably the way to go (definitely the way to go if you’re a beginner), then rises the question of selection. You will be overwhelmed to know that there are hundreds of breeds you could begin with, with varying levels of availability depending on your region. To simplify the matter somewhat, it is best to consider breed types before going into the specific breeds. Breeds from similar environments will have similar enough characteristics, where choosing any one animal from the bunch will likely serve your purpose. For a beginner shepherd, it’s best to categorize sheep by purpose first, as it will allow to more easily shortlist breed types, informing further decisions are more detailed factors enter consideration.