Best Sheep Breeds for Homesteaders

Looking for an efficient, versatile type of backyard livestock for your small acreage? Here’s a crash course on how to raise the best sheep breeds for your needs — including everything from meat sheep breeds and hair sheep breeds to livestock health care and predator control.

| February/March 2016

  • Friesians
    Friesians are among the best sheep breeds for dairy.
    Photo by Susan Schoenian
  • Mouflon
    Moving a Mouflon is simple when you can wrangle it by the horns. This "hair sheep" breed sheds its coat naturally in spring.
    Photo by Bryan Welch
  • Shearing Wool
    Wool breeds yield volumes of fine, marketable fiber.
    Photo by Jason Houston
  • Suffolk Lamb
    A Suffolk lamb (black fleece) frolics with a pair of Rambouillet Wendsleydale cross lambs (white fleeces) in an Oregon pen.
    Photo by Leon Werdinger
  • Lamb and Ewe
    Careful breeding results in low lambing mortality rates.
    Photo by Fotolia/Paul Isemonger
  • Grazers
    Resourceful grazers, sheep can help turn rocky, dry hillsides into productive pasture.
    Photo by Fotolia/minice173
  • Sheep in Snow
    For a low-maintenance herd, choose hardy animals suited to your climate.
    Photo by Rick Wetherbee
  • Grazing Sheep
    Meat from the author's 100 percent grass-fed flock is rich in healthy omega fatty acids.
    Photo by Bryan Welch

  • Friesians
  • Mouflon
  • Shearing Wool
  • Suffolk Lamb
  • Lamb and Ewe
  • Grazers
  • Sheep in Snow
  • Grazing Sheep

People have been keeping domesticated sheep for about 11,000 years. Sheep appear as both livestock and metaphor in the writings of every major human religion. Sheep farms abound on every continent that accommodates agriculture. Human history and domesticated sheep are inextricably linked, and these animals remain one of the most efficient types of livestock available to 21st-century homesteaders.

My wife and I have raised livestock on our Kansas ranch for more than a decade. Aside from herds of cattle and goats, we manage a flock of sheep descended from Katahdin ewes and Mouflon-cross rams. In our experience, lamb is the most delicious meat we produce. In fact, it’s the most flavorful meat we’ve ever eaten. Even friends who aren’t accustomed to eating lamb (meat from a sheep that is less than 1 year old) quickly realize that a grass-finished lamb provides a culinary treat. One probably has to try a perfectly roasted, rosemary-encrusted leg of pastured lamb to fully appreciate its lovely, robust flavor and tender texture.

The practical advantages of raising sheep are especially evident on a small property with limited capital. In most locales, you can acquire a decent breeding flock of four or five animals for less than $2,000, compared with about $10,000 for a similarly sized herd of beef cattle. You won’t need expensive handling pens or squeeze chutes, and you’ll be able to haul several animals in covered stock racks on the back of a pickup or in a small stock trailer.

Many sheep breeds can also help turn rocky, dry hillsides into productive pasture. They’re famously resourceful grazers, capable of finding good nutrition where no cow could survive. And they like shelter for the night, so you can easily harvest their manure by overnighting them in corrals near garden beds, where composted manure will increase soil fertility.

In many temperate climates, sheep offer the distinct advantage of reaching slaughter weight before the grass goes dormant in winter, which means you can harvest or sell the year’s lamb crop without having to buy hay for feed. A 100-pound lamb will yield about 35 pounds of meat for your freezer — much easier to store than a side of beef.

Sheep have a reputation for being more labor-intensive than cattle. Some farmers will tell you that even the best sheep breeds need to be wormed frequently, that you must trim their hooves, that they need help lambing, and that their tails must be docked. However, many successful sheep farmers know that none of those processes are necessary if you choose your breed and breeder prudently, and if you manage your flock to be self-sufficient in your specific conditions.

4/20/2018 7:00:00 PM

I find if my lambs are at least 50 lb I don't have coyotes bothering them same with the bald eagles. I do help my ewes if they are in a lot of distress at lambing time but they get culled. I do find them a lot easier than cattle and would never go back to cattle.

3/20/2018 1:26:17 AM

Great article! Thank you!!



February 15-16, 2020
Belton, Texas

Join us in the Lone Star state to explore ways to save money and live efficiently. This two-day event includes hands-on workshops and a marketplace featuring the latest homesteading products.


Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

50 Years of Money-Saving Tips!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 50 years and counting, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters

click me