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A Beginner’s Guide to Sheep
A Beginner’s Guide to Sheep

hile sheep have to compete with other highly common animals with respect to dairy and meat, where they have the market cornered is wool. With the exception of llamas and alpacas, sheep have no competition when it comes to wool production. Thus it will come as no surprise that sheep are commonly categorized according to their coats, their length, composition, and thickness of fibers.

Sheep are not purely wool, they grow hair as well, and the ratio of hair-to-wool varies from breed to breed. In fact, some breeds have coats consisting of almost purely hair. These were more common historically, but with time and with a global preference for wool sheep instead of hair sheep, the hair breeds have become increasingly rare. Today, they comprise around 10% of the sheep population worldwide and are favored for being less labor-intensive than others. Shepherds that keep hair sheep have either flocks of exclusively hair sheep or keep their hair sheep separate from their wool sheep. The reason is the possibility of the hair contaminating the wool fibers in the wool breeds’ fleece. Keeping wool sheep and hair sheep together can severely harm the marketability of your wool, as some wool mills will refuse your product simply on the basis that you’ve kept hair and wool sheep together, creating unnecessary risk for the wool mill. 

A Beginner’s Guide to Sheep
A Beginner’s Guide to Sheep

The wool sheep have three predictable categories: Fine (short), Medium and Long coat. The fine coat are the shortest coated sheep that have the finest fibers. This is the most expensive wool out there, used primarily in creating premium items of clothing. The clothing market has “Merino” wool now as part of their marketing, and the average buyer probably thinks it’s some kind of Italian brand. It isn’t, it is just a breed of fine-wool sheep. But fine wool is no marketing gimmick – you’ll know when you’re wearing it. It is excellent at regulating body temperature and is less itchy when worn on open skin, so the benefits are very real. Fine wool business can be quite lucrative, which is why around 50% of sheep in the world are of the fine wool variety.

Medium wool sheep, despite being categorized by coat length, are not usually kept for their wool. Most of the sheep breeds kept for meat production happen to be medium wool sheep, which means wool is seldom the purpose.

Longwool sheep are the polar opposite of fine wool sheep in many ways. They predominantly reside in colder climates that tend to be more humid, hence the need for a more weather-appropriate fleece. These climates are also less prone to droughts, making feed abundant, which is perfect for fueling the growth of voluminous fleeces. Long wool is used primarily by hand spinners. The longest and coarsest type of wool is carpet wool, which is used in producing carpets, obviously.

When choosing between these, it is important to consider what market you’re looking to enter, how large or saturated it is, and whether the environment will be suitable for your desired type of breed. You must also consider the cost of each flock configuration to determine profitability. And remember that to make this into a profitable business, you have to invest your time and money in it long-term. The more experience you get, the easier it will become to choose the right breed.

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