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Sheep 101 logo

Badger face (Merino)

Barbados Blackbelly (US)

Barbados Blackbelly (Caribbean)

Barbados Blackbellies (Mexico)

Black dairy sheep

Black Katahdin

Bluefaced Leicester

Bluefaced Leicester

Colored Katahdins

Colored Lincoln


Blackheaded Dorper

Charollais ram

Dorper x Polypay

Dorset lambs

East Friesian x Lacaune

Horned Dorset


Hampshire undercover




Katahdin ram (Mexico)

Katahdin x Lacaune

Lacaune (France)



Long wooled rams

Merino (US)

Merino (New Zealand)


Polled Rambouillet


Polypay x Ile de France

Rat tail

Rideau Arcott


Rambouillet ram

Rambouillet ewes

Romney (New Zealand)

Romney (US)

SAMM (3/4)

Scottish Blackface



Southdown (New Zealand)


St. Croix

Superfine Merinos


Suffolk ewe (Alberta)

Suffolk (France)

Suffolk x Hampshire



White Dorper


US Sheep Breeds A-Z

The American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) recognizes over 60 sheep breeds. Some have been introduced recently via semen and/or embryos. Others were brought with early explorers and help to establish commerce in the American colonies.

The six breeds with the most purebred registrations are Katahdin, Hampshire, Suffolk, Dorper, Dorset, and Southdown. Though not in the top six registered breeds, the Rambouillet is probably the most influencial breed in the US, as it forms the basis of most western range flocks. Less common breeds are categorized by the Livestock Conservancy, whose mission is "to protect endangered livestock and poultry breeds from extinction."

US annual registrations
Global population
< 200
< 2,000
< 1,000
< 5,000
< 2,500
< 10,000
> 2,500
> 10,000
Of genetic value, lack historical documentation

Source: Livestock Conservancy

Other countries have similar organizations to preserve rare and historically-significant breeds.

American Blackbelly
The American Blackbelly is the result of crossing the Barbados Blackbelly with the Mouflon and Rambouillet, primarily to produce rams for trophy hunting. Rams generally display spectacular horns, whereas ewes are usually polled. Otherwise, the American Blackbelly has similar characteristics as the Barbados Blackbelly.



The Awassi is a fat-tailed sheep that was originally raised by nomads in the desert. Today, it is the highest milk-producing breed in the Middle East. The Awassi is multi-colored, white with brown heads and legs. Its ears are long and drooping. Rams are horned, while ewes are usually polled. The breed is extremely hardy and well-adapted to poor feeding conditions. The Awassi crossed with the East Friesian is called an Assaf. The Awassi was introduced to the US in 2012 via embryos.


Babydoll Southdown
The (Olde English) Babydoll Southdown is a smaller version of the Southdown breed, developed by breeders who wished to restore the Southdown to its origins before artificial selection was applied. To be eligible for registry, sheep must be smaller than 24 inches (at the time of shearing). Due to their small stature, Babydolls are often promoted for vineyard and orchard grazing. They are raised primarily as pets.



Barbados Blackbelly
The Barbados Blackbelly originated on the Caribbean island of Barbados. It descends from sheep brought to the islands from West Africa during the slave era. Blackbellies are "antelope like" in appearance, brown tan or yellow in color, with black points and under-parts. Both ewes and rams are polled or have only small scurs or diminutive horns. Barbados Blackbellies are noted for their hardiness, including resistance to internal parasites, and reproductive efficiency. The first Blackbellies were introduced to the US in 1904. The Barbados Blackbelly is on the Livestock Conservancy's "watch" list.



Black Welsh Mountain
The Black Welsh Mountain is a small sheep that produces a dense, completely black fleece. Ewes are polled, but rams have impressive horns. The breed was introduced to the US in 1973. Semen imports in the late 1990's added genetic diversity to US flocks. The Livestock Conservancy categorizes the Black Welsh Mountain as "threatened."



Bluefaced Leicester
The Bluefaced Leicester (BFL) is a dual-purpose, longwool breed of sheep developed by famed agriculturist Robert Bakewell. Of the three Leicester breeds, the BFL has the finest wool. The breed gets its name from its deep blue skin: white hairs on black skin. In England, the crossbred progeny of the Bluefaced Leicester are called Mules. Mule ewes make up more than half of England's crossbred ewe population. The first Bluefaced Leicesters were imported into the United States in the early 1980's. Semen from the UK is used to add genetic diversity to the US flock.



Booroola Merino
The Booroola Merino is a strain of Merino that has a very high rate of multiple births. It was developed in Australia from a flock that was being selected for improved reproductive rate. A single gene was identified in the flock which was determined to have a major influence on prolificacy. The homozygous genotype results in ovulation rates of 5 or more while the heterozygous genotype produces ovulation rates of 3 or more. The Booroola gene can be transferred to other breeds.


Border Cheviot
The Border Cheviot originated in the Cheviot Hills, on the border between England and Scotland. They were imported into the United States in 1838. Cheviots are a small breed, with a white face and bare head and legs. They have erect ears, with a stylish and alert appearance. Cheviots are known for their hardiness and spirit. They produce medium wool and desirable carcasses at light weights.



Border Leicester
The Border Leicester is a dual-purpose, long wooled sheep that originated in England. Their name derives from the fact that their birthplace is near to the border of Scotland. It is not known when the Border Leicester was first imported into the US, but the 1920 census lists them. Their long, curly, lustrous wool is popular with hand spinners.



California Red
California Reds originated in California in the 1970's. They are a cross between the Tunis and Barbado. Lambs are born red. Their fleece color lightens as they get older. Fleeces of mature animals are beige or oatmeal colored, with dark hairs interspersed. Because of the hairs in the wool, the wool isn't viable commercially; however, it is popular with hand spinners. Rams are polled, but usually have manes. The breed has an extended breeding season.



California Variegated Mutant
Developed in the early 1900's, the Romeldale is a cross between the Romney and Rambouillet. California Variegated Mutant (CVM) is a color pattern of Romeldale. It is the term used for a badger faced pattern. The soft wool and the unusual colors of the CVM are especially prized by hand spinners. Romeldales and CVMs are generally considered two types of the same breed. While Romeldales are mostly white, CVMs are naturally colored. The Romeldale/CVM is categorized as "critical" by the Livestock Conservancy.



Charollais sheep originated in France in the same region as Charollais cattle. They are widely used as terminal sires in the United Kingdom and Western Europe. They add growth and carcass muscling to market lambs. A myostatin gene mutation responsible for increased muscularity is found at a high frequency in the breed. There may be a small number of Charollais sheep in the US. There are greater numbers in Canada.


Clun Forest
At one time, the Clun Forest was the third most numerous purebreed in Britain. Its parent breeds are Hill Radnor, Shropshire, and Kerry Hill. Cluns are a dark-faced, dual purpose sheep that possess many desirable maternal characteristics. The breed was first imported into the US in 1970. The North American Clun Forest Association discourages showing, preferring to stress the performance aspects of the breed. The Livestock Conservancy categorizes the Clun Forest as "threatened."



Columbia sheep were developed in the early 1900's by the United States Department of Agriculture, with the intent of replacing crossbreeding on the range. Lincoln rams were crossed with Rambouillet ewes. While originally developed for range conditions, the Columbia has proved adaptable to conditions throughout the US. They are one of the largest sheep breeds in the US. Columbias are a dual-purpose breed that produce fast-growing lambs and heavy, medium wool fleeces with good staple length.



The Coopworth was developed at Lincoln University in New Zealand to increase the lambing percentages of Romney ewes when mated to Border Leicester rams. Coopworths are a medium size, dual purpose, long wool sheep. The first Coopworths were imported into the US in the 1970's, and while they are the second most common breed in New Zealand, in the US they are raised mostly for their wool. Their wool is relatively coarse, with a long staple length. The American Coopworth Registry is the only registry that offers breeders a performance designation for their sheep.



The Cormo breed takes its name from its two parent breeds: Corriedale and Merino. The breed was developed in the early 1960's in Australia. It was introduced to the US in 1976 where it is raised mostly for wool. It is a rare breed.



The Corriedale is one of the most numerous breeds worldwide. It is a dual purpose sheep, suitable for both lamb and wool production. Corriedales were developed in the 1800's almost simultaneously in Australia and New Zealand. The parent breeds are Merino on the dam side and Lincoln Longwool on the sire side. Corriedales were first brought to the US in 1914.



The Cotswold is a dual-purpose, long wool breed that originated in the Cotswold Hills in England. The breed was introduced to the US in 1831. In the US, it is raised primarily for wool. Cotswold wool hangs in locks and fibers that have a lustrous, silky sheen. There is a separate breed registry for Black Cotswolds, as they are considered a distinct breed. The Livestock Conservancy categorizes the Cotswold as "threatened."



The Debouillet was developed in New Mexico in 1920 from Delaine Merino x Rambouillet crosses. The breed is well adapted to the range conditions of the southwestern United States. The Debouillet is raised primarily for its fine wool. It is still common to cross Merinos with Rambouillets.


Delaine Merino
Not only is the Merino one of the oldest breeds of sheep in the world, it is the most influential. Merinos were developed in Spain during the 12th century, but not introduced to the US until the early 1800's. The Delaine Merino is the type of Merino sheep found predominantly in the US. It is described as smooth bodied and free from wrinkles. Besides their wool -- the softest and finest of any breed -- Merinos possess many other desirable characteristics, including an extended breeding season. They are hardy, long-lived sheep, with a well-developed flocking instinct.



The Dorper is a South African breed of hair sheep. They were developed in the 30's and 40's by crossing Horned Dorset rams with Persian Blackheaded ewes. There are two recognized Dorper varieties. A black head and white body are characteristic of the classic Dorper, while White Dorpers are completely white. Dorpers were imported into the US in the mid-1990's. Having originated from a different part of Africa, Dorpers lack the parasite resistance of other US hair breeds. They also do not shed as well, sometimes leaving clumps of wool or retaining wool on their back. However, they are the growthiest, heaviest muscled hair breed in the US. They are one of the most popular registered breeds in the US.



The Horned Dorset originated in southern England, probably from the Merino, and was first imported into the US in 1885. The Polled Dorset is believed to be the result of a mutation in the Dorset flock at North Carolina State University in 1948. Dorsets are an all-white sheep, medium in size. They produce medium wool, free from dark fibers. Dorsets, especially the horned variety, are best known for their ability to breed out-of-season. The breed possesses characteristics which make them suitable as either a sire or dam breed. While the Polled Dorset is one of the most popular breeds in the US, the Livestock Conservancy categorizes the Horned Dorset as "threatened."



East Friesian
The East Friesian is considered to be the world's highest producing dairy sheep. It originated in the Friesian area of Germany and Holland, the same area as the Holstein, the world's highest producing dairy cow. Friesian sheep are of the Northern European short-tailed variety of sheep. They are prolific, averaging over two lambs per lambing. Crossbred Friesians were introduced to the US in 1993; the first purebreds arrived in 1994. Friesians are raised as either purebreds or crossbreds on US dairy sheep operations. Sometimes, they are introduced into a flock to improve milk production. The crossbreds are much hardier than the purebreds, whose lambs are prone to pneumonia.



Finnsheep or Finnish Landrace, as they are known in their native country of Finland, are one of the most prolific breeds of sheep in the world. Typical litter sizes are 3 to 4 lambs. Finns are related to other Scandinavian short-tailed breeds. They were first imported into the United States in 1968, where their primary use was to produce crossbred ewes for commercial lamb production. More research work and data has been compiled in the US involving Finnsheep and their crosses than any other breed of sheep. Besides being prolific, Finnsheep are hardy, have strong mothering instincts, and will lamb on an accelerated lambing schedule. Finn lambs are known for the outstanding vigor. In more recent years, Finnsheep have become valued for their soft fleeces of medium wool, which have a similar range of colors as Shetland and Icelandic.



Florida Cracker
The Florida Cracker is considered to be one of the oldest breeds of sheep in the US, having descended from the sheep Spanish explorers brought to Florida in the 1500's. The breed evolved under natural conditions, roaming free until the end of WWII, when Florida's open range policy ended. Because Florida Crackers are a landrace (unimproved) breed, they vary in size and appearance. Many have red markings, similar to the Tunis. They produce a medium wool. They are categorized as a "critical" breed by the Livestock Conservancy.



The Gotland takes its name from the Swedish Island of Gotland where it originated. They are a medium-sized, naturally polled breed of the Northern European short-tailed variety of sheep. They are known for producing fur pelts and fleeces for hand spinning or felting. Colors range from silver to almost black. The Gotland is being established in the US via upgrading with imported semen. The first semen was imported in 2003.



Gulf Coast Native
The Gulf Coast Native is believed to have descended from the sheep brought to the New World by Spanish explorers. They developed largely through natural selection under the humid, sub-tropical conditions common to the Gulf states. Numerous universities have documented the parasite resistance of the Gulf Coast Native. Most of the sheep are white. They lack wool on their faces, legs, and sometimes bellies. Sexes may be polled or horned. The Gulf Coast Native is categorized as a "critical" breed by the Livestock Conservancy.


Hampshire sheep were developed in Southern England by the mingling of various breeds, including Old Hampshire, Berkshire Knot, Wiltshire Horn, Southdown, and Cotswold. Hampshires were first imported into the US in the 1860's, but many of the flocks were scattered or destroyed during the Civil War. Importations resumed in the 1880's. Hampshires are a large breed, with black heads and legs and wool on their heads and legs. They are a superior meat breed. Their most common use is as a terminal sire to produce crossbred offspring whose carcasses yield a high percentage of boneless, retail cuts. For this reason, the Hampshire is also a very popular club lamb sire. They are one of the most popular registered breeds.



The Herdwick is a very old breed, possibly originating from Scandinavia. They are considered to be the hardiest of Britain's hill sheep. Herdwick lambs are born mostly black. Their fleeces turn to dark brown and gray as they get older. Their wool is thick, coarse, and wiry, used primarily for outer wear and carpets. Herdwick rams sport horns, while ewes are polled. They are a medium sized, dual purpose breed. In 2008, the first Herdwick semen was introduced to the US.


Hog Island
In the 1700's, a flock of sheep (originating from British breeds of the era) was established on Virginia's barrier islands. For centuries, the sheep adapted to the island environment, free from human intervention, becoming feral. In 1978, the last sheep were removed from Hog Island. The sheep are being preserved by several organizations, due to their relevance to American history. There is a flock at George Washington's Mt. Vernon. Hog Island sheep vary in physical appearance. As with other landrace breeds, they are relatively small. Most are white; about 20 percent are black. Ewes and rams can be polled or horned. The Hog Island breed is classified as "critical" by the Livestock Conservancy.


The Icelandic is one of the world's oldest and purest breeds of sheep, boasting an 1100-year history. It is the only breed of sheep raised in Iceland. It is of the Northern European short-tailed group of sheep, having a short, fluke-like tail that is not docked. Rams and ewes may be horned or polled. Icelandics are considered to be a triple-purpose sheep: meat, wool, and milk. Their fleece is dual-coated and comes in a range of colors. Similar to the Booroola Merino, a gene has been found in the Icelandic breed which causes high levels of reproduction. There is also a separate line of sheep in the breed called leadersheep, which have a unique ability to lead the flock from peril. Icelandic sheep were first imported into the US in 1993. Semen from Iceland adds to the genetic diversity of the breed.


Ile de France
The Ile de France is a breed native to France. It was developed at a French Veterinary College in the 1830's by crossing the English Leicester and Rambouillet. The Ile de France is a major breed in France and is popular worldwide. It is used primarily as a terminal sire. In the US, the Ile de France is increasingly being used for commercial lamb production.


The most striking features of the Jacob are its four horns, two vertical center horns and two side horns curling alongside of the head, and its spotted black and white fleece. The Jacob is a very old breed, of unknown origins. The first importations of Jacobs to the US occurred in the early 1900's. Like its British counterpart, the American Jacob is a small, primitive breed valued for its unique features. Jacobs are categorized as "threatened" by the Livestock Conservancy.



The Karakul is probably one of the world's oldest breeds of sheep. It is native to Central Asia. Karakuls were first introduced to the US during the early 1900's. Karakuls differ radically in conformation as compared to most US breeds. They have a fat or broad-tail, though the size of their tail varies among individuals. They have a colored fleece, which is due to a dominant black gene. Most lambs are born coal black, with lustrous wavy curls. The pelts of Karakul lambs were historically referred to as Persian lambskin. Most adult Karakuls have a double-coat. Karakul ewes have an extended breeding season. The Livestock Conservancy categorizes the American Karakul as "threatened."



The Katahdin is an American breed of hair sheep developed in the 1950's on the Piel farm in Maine. It is the result of crossing hair sheep from the Caribbean with various British breeds, especially the Suffolk. In the 1970's, the Wiltshire Horn was introduced to add size and carcass quality to the mix, but eventually selection was against horns. The Katahdin is probably the best all-around hair sheep in North America, as it blends the best qualities of Caribbean hair sheep with the superior growth and carcass quality of wooled sheep. Katahdins excel in maternal and fitness traits, including parasite resistance. They are the most numerous registered breed of sheep in the US. The Katahdin is a performance-oriented breed, with good participation in the National Sheep Improvement Program (NSIP).



Kerry Hill
Kerry Hill is a British breed that originated in a region near the Welsh/English border. The breed's most notable characteristic is its unique markings. It has a white face with black markings around its mouth, ears, and eyes. Its legs are white, with black markings. It is a handsome sheep, medium in size, with good maternal traits. Kerry Hill semen was imported into the US in 2006.


The Lacaune is the most popular dairy sheep in France. From its milk, France makes its famous Roquefort cheese. As compared to the East Friesian, the Lacaune produces less milk, but with higher total solids. Though the Lacaune is a wooled breed, it tends to shed most of its wool from the chest down. The Lacaune was imported into Canada in 1996, then the US. In the US, it has become common to cross the Lacaune with the East Friesian for dairying. Semen importations from France in 2017 will freshen the Lacaune gene pool in the US.



Leicester Longwool
The Leicester Longwool (or English Leicester) is an old English breed that produces a fleece that is heavy, curly, soft handling, and lustrous, with a spiral-tipped staple. The breed was developed in the 1700's by Robert Bakewell. The Leicester Longwool is a heritage breed, well-known by the American colonies. Conservation efforts are spearheaded by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation which maintains its own flock. The Livestock Conservancy categorizes the Leicester Longwool as "threatened."



The Lincoln is an English breed, considered to be one of the world's largest breeds of sheep. Its fleece is the heaviest, longest-stapled and most lustrous of any breed in the world. Lincolns were first brought to the United States in the 1800's, where they contributed to the development of several commercially-important American breeds including the Columbia and Targhee. In the US, Lincolns are raised mostly for wool. The Livestock Conservancy lists them as "threatened."



The Montadale is an American breed of sheep developed by E.H. Mattingly in the 1930's. Mattingly's goal was to combine the best characteristics of Midwestern mutton-type sheep and big Western range sheep. He bred Cheviot rams to Columbia ewes. The Montadale is a large whiteface sheep. It is suitable as either a sire or dam breed.



Navajo Churro
The Navajo Churro is one of the oldest sheep breeds in the US, having descended from the Churra sheep brought to the New World by Spanish Explorers. Over the years, there were numerous attempts to destroy the Navajo Churro population, almost resulting in the breed's extinction. However, since the 1970's, the Navajo Churro Project has been dedicated to preserving this culturally-important breed. Navajo Churros are a landrace breed, hardy and adapted to the adverse conditions found in hot, dry deserts and sub-zero climates. They have a double-coated fleece that is classified as carpet wool and used primarily for rug weaving. The wool is the basis of the famous Navajo carpets. Ewes and rams can be polled or have two to four horns. Despite continuing conservation efforts, the Navajo Churro is classified as "threatened" by the Livestock Conservancy.



North Country Cheviot
The North Country Cheviot is a type of Cheviot native to Scotland. They are larger than their southern relatives, the Border Cheviot. North Countries are a hardy, hill breed that is raised primarily for meat. They are suitable as either a sire or dam breed. They are a medium sized, deep bodied, hornless sheep. The first North Country Cheviots were imported into North America in 1944, where they are favored by shepherds looking for sheep that can take care of themselves.


The Oxford originated in England. It is the result of crossing Cotswolds with Hampshires. A small amount of Southdown blood was introduced in the early development of the breed. The first Oxfords were imported to North America in 1846. The Oxford is a medium to large sheep, with a dark brown face and wool on the legs. It is used primarily as a terminal sire. It produces a medium grade wool. The Oxford is on the Livestock Conservancy's "Watch" list.



Painted Desert
The Painted Desert is spotted hair sheep. It originated in Texas by crossing Mouflon with Rambouillet, Merino, and Texas Blackbelly. Some Jacob and Navajo Churro influence was used to create multi-horned animals. Painted Desert sheep breed out-of-season. They may be flighty when confined the small spaces. The breed is raised mostly for trophy hunting.



Panama sheep originated in 1912 in Idaho. The foundation of the breed was a cross of Rambouillet rams to Lincoln ewes. Though developed from the reciprocal cross, they are not as large as the Columbia. Panamas produce a medium, long-stapled fleece. They are a hardy sheep, best adapted to range conditions. It is not known if many purebred Panama sheep remain.


Perendales were developed in the 1950's at Massey University in New Zealand. Their parent breeds are Border Cheviot and Romney. They were developed as an easy-care breed. They are considered dual-purpose and well-suited to cold, high rainfall areas. There aren't many Perendale sheep in the US.



The Polypay is an outstanding maternal breed. It was developed in the 1970's at the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in Dubois, Idaho, and Nicholas Farms at Sonoma, California. Targhee x Dorset and Rambouillet x Finnsheep crosses were mated to form a 4-breed composite that could produce two lamb crops and one wool crop per year. Polypays are a medium-sized, prolific breed with an extended breeding season. Good mothers and milkers, they produce lambs with good growth and carcass quality. The name Polypay comes from "poly" for many or much and "pay" to indicate a return on investment and labor. The Polypay is a performance-oriented breed, with good participation in the National Sheep Improvement Program (NSIP).



The Racka is a Hungarian breed of sheep known for its spiral-shaped horns. Mature males may have horns as long as 2 feet or more; the minimum standard is 20 inches for rams and 12 to 15 inches for ewes. The cork screw horns protrude almost straight upward from the top of the head. The Racka has double-coated fleece, with a very long and coarse outer coat. Color varies from white to brown to black. The breed was introduced to the US in 2005 via semen.


The Rambouillet is the foundation of most western range flocks. It was developed from the Spanish Merino in France and Germany and imported into the US in the 1800's. The Rambouillet is a large, rugged breed, of medium growth, and good longevity. It has a well-developed flocking instinct; an important trait in range flocks. Rambouillets produces high quality, fine wool. Though considered a range breed, the Rambouillet is adaptable to different conditions and is raised throughout the US. They considered to be a dual-purpose breed. Rambouillet ewes have an extended breeding season



Rideau Arcott
The Rideau Arcott is a Canadian breed. It was developed at a research center for the purpose of developing a sheep that reproduced rapidly and could be used for research purposes. The breed's mix is 40% Finnish Landrace, 20% Suffolk, 14% East Friesian, 9% Shropshire, and 8% Dorset Horn. The remaining 9% consists of Border Leicester, North Country Cheviot, Romnelet (Rambouillet x Romney), and Corriedale. The Rideau Arcott excels in reproductive traits: early puberty, prolificacy, and an extended breeding season. The breed is widely used in the Canadian sheep industry and was imported into the US in the 1990's


The Romanov is one of the most prolific breeds of sheep in the world. It originated in Russia's Volga Valley. The breed is of the Northern European short-tail variety. Purebred Romanov lambs are born pure black and lighten to a soft, silver gray as they make their fleece. The color is lost on their first cross. The fleece of adult animals is double-coated and not well suited to commercial markets. Romanovs possess outstanding maternal characteristics. First introduced to the US in the 1980's, the primary use of the Romanov is the production of crossbred ewes, 1/4 and 1/2 blood ewes that are put on a terminal sire. Such ewes will produce lamb crops between 200 and 300 percent.



The Romney is a long wool sheep that developed in a marshy area of England. It is the predominant breed in New Zealand. Romneys were first imported into the US in 1904. While a good dual-purpose breed, Romneys are raised mostly for wool in the US. Their fleeces are heavy, long, and lustrous. Their wool has the finest diameter of any of the long wool breeds. Romneys can be white or colored. They are open-faced and polled.



Royal White
Originally called the Dorpcroix, the Royal White® is American breed of hair sheep, developed in the 1990's by William Hoag. It is a cross between the Dorper and St. Croix. The breed is pure white. It grows a longer hair in the winter that is shed off naturally in the spring. Ewes and rams are naturally hornless.



Santa Cruz
The Santa Cruz is an extremely rare breed that once existed as a feral sheep on the Santa Cruz Island of the Channel Islands of California. After they were removed from the island, conservation efforts were begun to save the breed from extinction. Santa Cruz are a small, hardy sheep, most likely originating from the Merino, Rambouillet, and Churra breeds. They are categorized as "critical" by the Livestock Conservancy.


Scottish Blackface
Numerically and economically, the Scottish Blackface is one of the most important breeds in the United Kingdom, but in the US, they are a minor breed, raised mostly for their wool. Scottish Blackfaces are horned in both sexes and as their name suggests, they have a black face, sometimes with white markings. They produce a carpet quality wool that is double-coated. They are a tough and adaptable breed, one of the most stunning in looks.



The Shetland is a very old breed, having originated over 1000 years ago. It belongs to the Northern European short-tailed group of sheep and is one of the smallest breeds of sheep. Shetlands are known primarily for their production of colorful wool upon which the Shetland woolen industry is based. Shetland wool comes in one of the widest ranges of colors of any breed. There are 11 main colors as well as 30 markings, many still bearing their Shetland dialect names. As a primitive breed, Shetlands naturally shed their wool during late spring/early summer.



The Shropshire breed originated in central western England, likely from crosses between native blackface sheep and the Southdown, Leicester, and Cotsold. The first Shropshires were imported into the US in 1855. During the 30's and 40's, the Shropshire was the most popular and influencial breed in the US. They are a medium to large sized breed with black faces and legs. The Shropshire is raised primarily for meat, with its primary role being that of terminal sire. The Shropshire is on the Livestock Conservancy's "Watch" list.



Soay sheep descend from feral sheep on the island of Soay in the St. Kilda Archipelago off the northern coast of Scotland. Soay means "sheep island" in Norse. They are of the Northern European short-tailed variety of sheep. They are a small, athletic sheep that resemble a gazelle in appearance. They are brown in color. Ewes are either polled or horned. Rams are usually horned. Like other primitive breeds, they are extremely hardy. They shed their fleeces naturally. The breed is rare in the US.



South African Meat Merino (SAMM)
The South African Meat Merino or SAMM originated in South Africa. It is derived entirely from the German Mutton Merino. Years of selection resulted in a versatile sheep, with good meat and wool. Their fine wool isn't as good as many Merinos, but they are better meat producers. SAMMS were introduced into the US via embryos in 1999.


The Southdown was developed in the Sussex hills of England in the late 1700's and early 1800's. It was imported into the US in the 1820's. Southdowns are a small to medium-sized breed. The color of their face and legs is gray to mouse-brown. They are an early maturing breed that excels in crossbreeding programs to produce meaty lamb carcasses at a light weight and hot house lambs. They produce a medium fleece that is the finest of the British breeds. The prepotency of the Southdown is well-known. They are one of the most popular breeds in the US.



St. Augustine
The St. Augustine is a relatively new breed of a hair sheep. It was developed in the 1990's by Ron & Ruth Tabor. It is a cross between the St. Croix (5/8) and the Dorper (3/8). The St. Croix was selected because of its mothering ability, parasite resistance, and hardiness. The Dorper was valued for its size and muscling. Being bred and developed in Florida, the breed is well-adapted to hot, humid conditions and has good parasite resistance.



St. Croix
The St. Croix is a hair sheep native to the US Virgin Islands and named after the island of St. Croix. The St. Croix likely descends from the African sheep brought to the Caribbean on slave ships. Most of the breed is white with some solid tan, brown, black or white with brown or black spots. Both sexes are polled, and rams have a large throat ruff. In addition to having outstanding reproductive capabilities, the breed is considered to be the most parasite resistant breed in the US. The St. Croix is classified as a "threatened" breed by the Livestock Conservancy.



Found throughout the world, the Suffolk is a British breed, the result of crossing Southdown rams onto Norfolk ewes. The first Suffolks were bought to the US in 1888. Today, the Suffolk is one of the most popular breeds in the US. It is the most popular sire of market lambs and one of the preferred breeds for producing club lambs. Suffolks are one of the largest breeds in the US. Their lambs grow fast and produce well-muscled carcasses. They are an attractive breed with a bare black head and legs and long, pendulous ears.



The Targhee is an American breed of sheep, developed in 1926 at the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in Dubois, Idaho, from Rambouillet, Columbia and Corriedale crosses. The breed derives its name from the Targhee National Forest on which the experiment station's flock grazed in the summer. The Targhee is a dual-purpose sheep with good meat type and a heavy fleece of high quality wool. The breed is especially popular in Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota. The Targhee is a performance-oriented breed, with good participation in the National Sheep Improvement Program (NSIP).



The Teeswater is a large, dual-purpose, long wool sheep from Great Britain. They are known for their long, purled locks, with a staple length of 8 to 12 inches. The wool is among the finest of the long wool breeds. The Teeswater was crossed with the English Leicester to yield to Wensleydale breed. The first Teeswater semen was imported into the US in 1996.



The Texel originated on the Isle of Texel off the coast of the Netherlands early in the 19th century. The breed became available to U.S. sheep producers in 1990 when they were released from quarantine at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Nebraska, where they were being evaluated for their potential in crossbred lamb production. The most outstanding characteristic of the Texel is its remarkable muscle development. Texel-sired lambs show an advantage of one full leg score in breed comparisons. In more recent years, it has been learned that the Texel may be more resistant to internal parasites as compared to other wooled breeds, making it a good choice for siring crossbred lambs that will be finished on grass. The Texel has become the dominant terminal-sire breed in Europe and is becoming increasingly popular for this purpose in the US.



Modern Tunis sheep are the result of combining the Middle-Eastern fat-tailed sheep imported from Tunisia, with the sheep available in America around 1799, making them one of the oldest US sheep breeds. The Tunis is a medium sized sheep with a distinct look. They have a creamy colored wool. Their head and legs are solid tan to cinnamon red in color. Lambs are born red and lighten as they mature. Tunis ewes have an extended breeding season. The Livestock Conservancy lists the Tunis breed under its "watch" category.



Valais Blacknose
Dubbed the "world's cutest sheep," Valais Blacknose are a hardy mountain breed that originated in Switzerland. They are dual purpose, used for both meat and wool. Their wool is a coarse. Its main use is for felting and carpets. The breed is most valued for its unique appearance which involves black parts of the nose, eyes, ears, front knees, hocks, and feet in an otherwise white body. Both sexes have spiral shaped twisted horns. The first Valais Blacknose lambs were born in the US in 2018, the result of an upgrading program.



The Wensleydale is a long wooled sheep that originated in England. It was developed in the 19th century by crossing the English Leicester with Teesdale sheep. It is a large sheep with long-stapled, lustrous wool that falls in long ringlets almost to ground level in unshorn sheep. The breed also has a distinctive gray-blackface, ears, and legs. The breed was established in the US in the late 1990's when Cotswold, English Leicester, and Lincoln ewes were inseminated with imported semen.




The Wiltipoll is a hair sheep that was developed mostly from the Wiltshire Horn, with an infusion of various wooled breeds including Border Leicester, Perendale, Poll Dorset, and Poll Merino. Primarily, they are a polled version of the Wiltshire Horn, developed in Australia as an easy-care alternative to wooled sheep. At some point, the Wiltipoll was introduced to the US.


Wiltshire Horn
The Wiltshire Horn is a very old English breed that naturally sheds its short wool and white hair coat. As the name suggests, both ewes and ram are horned. The Wiltshire Horn's presence is documented very early in the history of the US (1600's). The breed was again imported to the US in the 1970's, when it was used in the development of the Katahdin breed. Importations in the 1990's freshened the genetic base. The Livestock Conservancy categorizes the Wiltshire Horn as a "recovering" breed.



US Sheep Breeds A-Z


Late updated 19-Apr-2021 by Susan Schoenian.
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