The right sheep is in this rundown, whether you want wool, meat or milk, including classification, crossbreed types, other breeds to ponder.

| May/June 1982

  • 075-082-01

  • 075-082-01

Whether you want wool, meat or milk, you'll find the right sheep in our vet's rundown on...

Randy Kidd, D.V.M.
All the evidence available to us today indicates that the association between humans and sheep goes back to prehistoric times. Of course, there's little doubt that many a wild ram and ewe wound up in the bellies of Neanderthal hunters . . . and surviving records—in the form of testaments, artwork, and such—show that primitive pastoral peoples used domesticated sheep for wool, skins, milk, and tallow as well as for meat. For example, an early Egyptian sculpture shows sheep being driven across a freshly sown field in the Nile Valley, apparently so their hoofs could press the seeds into the soil. Furthermore, wool was used as clothing material by the Babylonians at least 4,000 years before the birth of Christ. All in all, then, we've been together a long time.

And—over those centuries—if humankind has affected the development of sheep, sheep have, in turn, affected the development of nations. In England, the wool industry flourished until, by the sixteenth century, it had become the chief source of revenue for the Crown. While Spain (to give a more dramatic example) refused to give up its monopoly on Merino sheep—the secret of that country's lucrative wool export industry—to the point that Spanish law actually specified the death penalty for anyone found guilty of exporting a live Merino!

In recent years wool has been largely supplanted by synthetic fibers, and only one-third of today's American sheep raisers derive their income from the sale of fleece. Nevertheless, wool finds its way into some of the finest (and often most costly) articles on the market . . . it's still incomparable for warmth, durability, versatility, and beauty.

Happily enough, the increasing interest in homesteading and in handmade, homespun apparel and furnishings has caused a lot of people to take a second look at sheep . . . finding them to be practical small-farm livestock and a source of easily handled, unusual wools. And whether a person wants animals for meat or wool, a backyard flock can be one of the most economical components of a self-reliant homestead.

The breeds listed below include some of the most popular (as well as a few not so popular) types of sheep in the United States. Naturally, this article can be only an overview, and anyone who is inspired to consider acquiring a flock should make a thorough study of the breeds that seem most appropriate to his or her purpose . . . before making a purchase.

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