Meat and Wool
Although the majority of residents in the United States (US) do not consume lamb, most US sheep businesses are targeted toward the production of lamb meat rather than wool. Furthermore, the US frequently imports from Australia and New Zealand almost half of its lamb supply. The various ethnic populations such as Greeks, Middle Easterners, Hispanics, and Native Americans, account for the majority of lamb consumers.
According to Sheep Industry News, producers and retailers are being encouraged to reach out to a more diverse set of consumers, mainly American Muslims and Hispanics. Some producers can also focus on meeting specialty demands such as all natural lamb within the overall niche. This represents a tremendous opportunity for small-scale farmers to diversify, expand, and supply high-quality lamb products to meet the demand of local ethnic populations and the demand of ethnic populations in the Northeast and on the West Coast.
Easy-care Hair Sheep Breeds
Ideally suited for small acreage landowners, easy-care hair sheep breeds produce lean lambs with low-input, forage-based production systems. Although there is a group of hair sheep breeds to choose from, the improved breeds (Katahdin and Dorper) grow faster and produce larger and meatier carcasses than the unimproved breeds (Barbados Blackbelly and St. Croix). The Katahdin sheep, one of the fastest-growing sheep breeds in America, is a low-maintenance hair sheep developed in the US primarily from crosses with the Wiltshire Horn, St. Croix, and Suffolk. They naturally shed their hair coat in the spring and are tolerant of heat and internal parasites, making them ideal sheep for the warm, humid, parasite-prone Southeastern US. Lambs produce a high quality, well-muscled carcass that is desirable for specialty markets at a variety of ages and weights.
The Dorper, another of America’s fastest-growing sheep breed, is a resilient and hardy hair sheep developed in South Africa from a cross between the Dorset Horn and Blackhead Persian sheep breeds. Dorpers are registered as White Dorpers (all white) or as Dorpers (white bodies with black heads). Although Dorpers are less resistant to parasitism, they are extensively used in crossbreeding programs with other hair sheep breeds to increase growth rate and carcass quality of market lambs. Dorper lambs are renowned for their rapid growth and heavily muscled, high yielding carcasses.
Another sheep breed that produces lambs with a high-yield carcass that is naturally lean is the Royal White®. This is a fairly new hair-class sheep breed also developed in the US. This hybrid breed (White Dorper x St. Croix) is pure white, naturally hornless, sheds hair off naturally in the spring, and can be bred back in 15 to 20 days after lambing. The breed was developed for high performance (more meat and less fat) and low maintenance (less wool and disease-resistant). Ethnic buyers desire this lamb due to its leanness and high carcass yields with low fat.
However, farmers who prefer to focus on meeting organic markets demands may choose to raise the unimproved St. Croix breed. This breed of hair sheep has exceptional resistance to internal parasites. Hence, farmers raising St. Croix sheep are more likely to raise them naturally without chemical wormer intervention.
Brester, G. (2012, April). International lamb profile. Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.
Oklahoma State University. (2015). Hair sheep breeds—breeds of livestock. Department of Animal Science.
Runyon, L. (2015, June). Lamb producers look to ethnic groups. Sheep Industry News.
Schoenian, S. (2009). Perhaps, you should consider hair sheep. Maryland Small Ruminant Page
Sheep! Magazine. (2013). New U.S. breed: Low input-high returns. Staff Report.