The Best Breeds for Raising Sheep at Home

Jane Marsh - April 17, 2024

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Homesteading has become a go-to hobby for many since the pandemic. Being stuck inside made people realize how much getting outside while you can matters. Plus, all the shortages of staple products sparked the hands-on crowd into growing food and raising livestock themselves. Raising sheep might not be a beginner’s first thought, but these multi-purpose animals can solve many worries about food and clothing insecurity.

However, how complicated are they to keep? Which breeds are optimal for those just starting out? Here’s what budding sheep farmers need to know about these wonderful creatures.

Are Sheep Easy to Care For?

Luckily, sheep are quite docile, so their temperament shouldn’t be a cause for concern. Feeding is also quite simple — they would eat grass all day if they could. However, most people are strapped for wide, open fields in their backyards these days, so the sheep will be fine with grass hay with grain. If it seems like they are not getting enough nutrients, timothy hay pellets with added alfalfa could be the key, but speak with a veterinarian to check for illness.

The difficult part about raising sheep is how much space they need. These animals can technically live alone, but experts recommend having two to five to keep them happy. Two to 10 sheep need a minimum of one acre of space if they’re eating grass from the ground. Other than that, they’ll need around 150 square feet per sheep, plus enough room for a second pasture for those who want to rotate their flocks. Of course, more is always better if there’s space to offer.

Additionally, there is the matter of containing the critters. A lot of animals would love to snag a sheep as an easy meal, so new shepherds will need to build a robust fence to keep predators out. They also must ensure they keep the flock in, as sheep can and will find holes to escape through. To keep them safe in hot weather and protect lambs from harsh conditions, provide a shelter they can gather under.

Raising Sheep: 5 Excellent Backyard Breeds

Sheep are fantastic animals to raise because they have several valuable offerings — meat, wool and milk. Not to mention, they are notoriously sweet. Many breeds are good for more than one of those purposes, so browse a few of the best sheep for beginners while keeping in mind which products will be most useful.

1. Dorset Horn

Those who love a showy sheep will adore the Dorset Horn. The animals have impressive pairs of horns, with the ewes possessing a more delicate set and the rams carrying some impressive heavy hitters. Not to mention, this specific breed is a conservation priority, so raising a few can help bring up their numbers.

Dorsets have an all-white coat that can offer up to nine points of medium-grade fiber annually. Ewes weigh as much as 200 pounds and rams start around 225, meaning both have the opportunity to be excellent meat producers. When the lambs come around, Dorset Horn ewes are hands-on moms and make a lot of milk, so there is also a chance of them being great dairy providers.

2. Hampshire

Hampshires have quite recognizable dark faces, ears and legs. However, they are polled, meaning they do not have the large horns of the Dorsets. The breed enjoys grass, so feeding them is incredibly manageable and the nutrients they get from the fresh plants help them grow strong. In fact, Hampshires are known as the oxen of sheep.

As such a title implies, these are primarily meat livestock. Ewes start at almost 200 pounds, while rams weigh 275 pounds and up. If the owner chooses to sell the cuts, they can likely fetch a good price, as Hampshire meat is considered high quality. These can also be great wool providers, though, with the potential to get nearly 9 pounds of it a year.

3. Merino

The name “Merino” likely sounds familiar to several ears because it is an incredibly common wool. Naturally, the title comes from the animal, which can make anywhere from 13 to 40 pounds of fiber a year. Those who love creating their own clothing items or would like to start a yarn business could make a decent profit with their Merinos.

However, they are not just good for their coats. Ewes weigh up to 200 pounds and rams get up to 275, so many are promoting them as a meat and wool breed. Merinos are also popular for their calmness and flocking instinct, which makes them much easier to herd.

4. Finnsheep

Finnsheep are another eye-catching breed, but this time because of their coat. They are easily recognizable by their long, fluffy wool that stops at the legs. Shepherds love them for their several purposes — fiber, milk, meat and hides — that give them the chance to nourish their families and make extra money from what they do not use.

A Finnsheep will be smaller than other meat sheep, capping at 180 pounds for ewes and 240 pounds for rams. The mothers are also well-known caregivers that can birth triplets, quadruplets and more — quite rare among sheep, which typically have single lambs.

5. Dorper

The Dorper is one of the most common sheep breeds available. They are fantastic meat sheep that get as heavy as 210 to 217 pounds for ewes and rams, respectively. Dorpers’ short coats also mean they do not require shearing — excellent for those who would rather skip that step. However, some variations will not shed as well as others, so research into the specific type is vital.

Dorpers are notably resistant to parasites, fly-strike, illness and fleece rot, making their maintenance very simple. Those who want a decent meat-producing operation might want to keep more than a few of this species, as more than one lamb per ewe pregnancy is very atypical.

Raising Sheep With Ease

Sheep are absolutely wonderful animals. Whether raising them for meat, fiber or dairy, these creatures will make excellent companions. Additionally, they could be great for families, as their mild-mannered nature suits children, and the little ones can start learning about proper animal husbandry and sustainable food production. All in all, raising sheep is a highly rewarding endeavor.

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About the author

Jane Marsh

Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.