Barbados Blackbelly rams
Santa Inês ewe
The wild ancestors of today's domestic sheep breeds had long,
coarse hair and a short, downy undercoat, which under domestication
gradually became wool, while the long hair disappeared. Wild sheep,
such as the Mouflon, still do not have wooly coats.
Some breeds of sheep remain true to their ancestors and do
not have long, wooly coats that require shearing. This is because
wool is a disadvantage in many environments and not profitable
to produce in many circumstances.
Found in the tropics
It is estimated that approximately 10 percent of the world's
sheep population is hair sheep, of which an estimated 90 percent
are found in Africa and 10 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Gaining in popularity
Hair sheep are increasing rapidly
in popularity in the U.S. and other temperate climates because
wool is not as profitable as it once was and meat (lamb) is the
primary source of income in the majority of sheep operations.
Hair sheep are also valued for their production efficiency and
Hair vs. wool
Hair sheep are not a cross between sheep and goats. They have
the same number of chromosomes as wooled sheep. The primary difference
between hair sheep and wooled sheep is the ratio of hair to wool
fibers. All sheep have both types of fibers. Hair sheep have more
hair fibers and wool sheep have more wool fibers. Wooled sheep
need sheared. Hair sheep do not. Hair sheep also do not usually
need their tails docked. Most wooled sheep have their tails docked
for reasons of health and sanitation.
Like wooled breeds, there is considerable difference among
hair sheep breeds, depending upon their origins. Some breeds and
individuals have short, slick hair coats, absent of wool, while
others grow thicker coats that contain a mixture of hair and wool
fibers that shed naturally each year. Hair sheep tend to grow
more wool fibers in cold climates, thus making them adaptable
to different climate extremes.
Some of the newer breeds of hair sheep are crosses between
"pure" hair sheep breeds and meat-type wooled breeds.
They grow more wool than traditional hair sheep, but shed their
coats annually and do not require shearing. They may be more accurately
identified as "shedding" sheep.
Besides shedding their "fleeces," hair sheep have many
other outstanding qualities. Those with tropical origins have
a high level of reproduction, are more resistant to internal parasites
(worms) than conventional wooled sheep, and have a greater tolerence
for heat and humidity.
From the standpoint of leather, the closer a sheepskin approaches
hair sheep, the tighter and firmer the fiber network, and, therefore,
the better the skin for producing leather. This is the case because
the numerous fine wool fibers, as opposed to the lesser number
of coarse fibers of the hair sheep, cause the skin to be more
open and loose in texture.
Hair sheep lambs have excellent vigor. Their longer birth coats enhance neonatal survival. Their growth rates
vary according to their breed, genetics, and plane of nutrition.
Many of the hair breeds fatten more like goats, depositing fat
around their internal organs before laying on external fat. As
a result, they should probably not be full-fed in a feed lot.
As with goats, it's probably better to grow them more slowly on
a lower energy, higher-roughage diet.
<== KINDS OF SHEEP