The feral sheep of the old world didn't have much wool. Instead, they had more hair than wool. Through selective breeding over the years, we've got a plethora of wooly sheep breeds that are useful for meat and dairy production, too. However, shearing sheep costs money and takes a lot of effort, so sheep farmers are starting to select breeds that needn't be sheared.
Sheep that don't need to be sheared are referred to as hair sheep breeds. These breeds have coats of hair and wool which they shed during the spring or summer, negating the need for shearing. Hair sheep breeds are referred to as "self-shearing," woolless, or nudie sheep due to their limited wool.
Apart from not having to shear hair sheep, they usually have many other benefits. Hair sheep are generally more disease-resistant compared to wool sheep. Their hides can be used as leather, and their meat is of superior quality. Because hair sheep don't need shearing, they are becoming increasingly popular for homesteaders and small-scale sheep farming operations.
26 Sheep Breeds That Do Not Need Shearing
Nearly all present-day sheep in the world are derived from wild Mouflon sheep. Mouflon sheep grew coarse hair and had a downy undercoat. Through domestication and selective breeding, sheep have been bred to produce more wool. However, not all sheep farmers want wool, as it costs money to have woolly sheep sheared. So, more farmers are looking for hair sheep breeds, or "nudies".
The most common hair sheep breeds in America are the Dorper and Katahdin breeds. However, heritage hair breeds are still raised in other parts of the world; some are available in the U.S.
Today, about ten percent of sheep breeds are hair breeds. Most of them are found in tropical climates, but they can adapt to colder climates by growing thicker undercoats. So, which sheep breeds do not need shearing?
1. Africana Sheep
Africana sheep are not very common, but they are one of the most heat-tolerant hair sheep breeds. This polled breed is native to Colombia and Venezuela, is raised for its meat, and does not need shearing.
2. American Blackbelly Sheep
American Blackbellies are a result of crossbreeding Barbados Blackbelly sheep and Rambouillet or Mouflon sheep. They are a smaller meat breed than Barbados Blackbellies, and the ewes tend to have curved, elongated horns. American Blackbelly sheep are resistant to parasites, making them an excellent choice for hair sheep.
3. Barbados Blackbelly Sheep
The Barbados Blackbelly is a true hair sheep breed with ancient, albeit disputed, origins. These sheep were introduced to the United States by the USDA in 1904. This polled breed thrives in warmer climates, tends to produce twins, and provides a good carcass weight for meat production.
Barbados Blackbellies are reasonably tall and energetic, resembling small deer. They shed their medium-thick hair naturally in the spring.
4. Blackhead Persian Sheep
Another true hair sheep, the Blackhead Persian is highly tolerant of humid and hot conditions as found in Somalia and the Caribbean. Blackhead Persians have black heads, compact white bodies, fat rumps, fat tails, and short legs. They were initially bred for the fat in their backsides that was useful as cooking oil.
Unfortunately, Blackhead Persians are not the greatest lambers among hair breeds. However, their skin is popularly used as soft leather for gloves.
5. California Red Sheep
While, in theory, not a true hair sheep, California Reds are easily managed and prized for their meat and milk production. California Reds are the result of crossbreeding Barbados Blackbellies and Tunis sheep, the latter having the ability to breed out of season. As a result, California Reds can cope well in hot, humid weather. Their hair fibers are red tan in color, intermingled with minimal white wool.
6. Dorper Sheep
Dorper sheep were developed in South Africa in the 1930s and are a mutton breed of hair sheep known for providing large, meaty carcasses. Dorpers were created by crossbreeding Blackhead Persian sheep with Dorset sheep. The breed can tolerate harsh, arid conditions and has a high lambing rate. Each spring, Dorpers shed their short coats of hair and wool.
Dorper sheep mate year-round, unlike most sheep that are seasonal breeders. Therefore, the breed has been used to produce many new sheep breeds.
7. Exlana Sheep
Exlana sheep are a relatively new self-shearing breed. They originated in Britain through a selective breeding program using Barbados Blackbelly and St. Croix sheep. The name "Exlana" is Latin for "used to have wool."
The Exlana grows a thin coat and sheds it in the spring. Compared to typical British wool sheep that produce up to 20 lbs. wool, Exlana sheep yield only one pound. The hair resembles felt and drops off in small amounts over a few days. The wool either composts in the field or is used by birds for nest-building.
8. Katahdin Sheep
Katahdin sheep are a newer hair sheep breed developed in the United States in the 1970s by breeder Michael Piel. He crossbred St. Croix sheep with meat breeds like Suffolks to get a brush-clearing breed for powerline corridors in his area. Piel named the new breed after the tallest mountain peak in Maine, Katahdin.
Katahdin sheep are low-maintenance, hardy sheep. Despite being medium-sized, they have high-quality carcass weights. They often produce twin lambs and do not need shearing as they shed their winter coats.
9. Maasai Sheep
Maasai sheep are an ancient breed typically found in East African countries like Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. The Maasai nomads favored the breed for their meat and for being extremely disease resistant. They are also called Red Maasai and have fat tails.
10. Mouflon Sheep
Technically, Mouflon sheep are a wild sheep breed considered to be the ancestors of all modern domestic sheep breeds. Mouflon sheep have hair, and they thrive in primitive settings. They originated in the Mediterranean basin.
11. Romanov Sheep
Romanov hair sheep are native to Russia and can tolerate a colder climate. They grow a thick coat but will shed it in the warmer months. The sheep have short "rat tails" and grow quite large. They are known for their prolific fertility, often lambing in litters of three to six lambs at a time. In one world-record instance, a Romanov ewe gave birth to nine lambs.
12. Royal White Sheep
Royal Whites were developed by crossbreeding Dorper and St. Croix sheep. The breed is relatively new among hair sheep breeds, and the sheep are a bit larger due to the Dorper influence. In addition, their body shape is unique in that they hold themselves close to the ground, thereby losing little body heat in inclement weather.
Rams can reach as much as 230 lbs., with ewes not far behind. The lambs produce high-quality meat and grow quite quickly.
13. St. Augustine Sheep
St. Augustine sheep are medium-sized hair sheep that shed their hair in summer. They are parasite-resistant, easily handled, and well-adapted to humid and hot climates and most types of forage. The sheep can be polled or horned, and rams are fertile through summer, unlike most other sheep breeds. The meat of St. Augustine sheep is mildly flavored.
14. St. Croix Sheep (Virgin Island White)
St. Croix sheep are descended from West African hair sheep from the 1700s and are considered a true hair breed. However, some believe they're a cross of Wiltshire White and Criollo sheep. St. Croix sheep have gentle temperaments and a high rate of multiple births, making them a good choice for beginner hair sheep farmers in warmer climates.
Additional benefits of St. Croix sheep are that they are typically polled and are resistant to parasites. In addition, they come in different color variations, namely white, brown, and black. Given the breed's history, the Livestock Conservancy considers the St. Croix breed endangered.
15. Touabire Sheep
Touabire sheep are also called White Arab or Laudom sheep. The breed is found in African countries such as Mali, Mauritania, and Senegal. It is bred predominantly for meat and dairy. Touabire sheep have lop ears and appear gaunt, often looking more like goats than sheep. The ewes are usually polled, while the rams have horns.
16. Uda Sheep
Uda sheep are an uncommon hair sheep breed native to the African countries Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria. Several varieties of Uda sheep exist; however, they tend to have long legs and be white and black or brown. Uda rams are horned, but the ewes are polled.
17. West African Dwarf Sheep
West African Dwarf sheep are a meat breed native to the tropical forests of West and Central Africa. They look like mountain goats with their curved horns and scruffy manes. The ewes give birth to single or twin lambs, which have a prolonged growth rate.
18. Wiltshire Horn Sheep
Wiltshire Horn sheep come from the Wiltshire area in England and date back to the 1700s. They are meat sheep known for their excellent fertility and mothering skills. The lambs of Wiltshire Horns can be ready for slaughter in sixteen weeks. Interestingly, this "self-shearing" breed is resistant to flystrike. Both rams and ewes grow impressive, spiraled horns.
Many other hair sheep breeds exist. They, too, do not require shearing but are less popular than those discussed above. Some hair sheep breeds are the following:
19. Brazilian Somali Sheep
As a hair sheep breed, the Brazilian Somali Sheep do not produce wool, but instead have a coat made up of hair, similar to goats.
20. Damara Sheep
Damara sheep is a hair sheep breed that is native to southern Africa. They are known for their distinctive fat-tail, and their meat is known for its tenderness and flavor. They have a short, smooth hair coat and are typically tan, brown, or black in color.
21. Morada Sheep
Morada Nova is a breed of domestic hair sheep that is native to northeastern Brazil. They have a short hair coat that is typically solid black or brown in color. They are small to medium-sized sheep, and are primarily raised for meat production.
22. Pelibüey Sheep
Pelibüey is a breed of domestic hair sheep that originated in Cuba. They have a short hair coat that is typically red or tan in color. They are known for their hardiness and ability to thrive in hot and humid environments. They are primarily raised for meat production and are known for their tender and flavorful meat.
23. Rabo Largo Sheep
Rabo Largo is a breed of domestic hair sheep that is native to Brazil. They have a short hair coat that is typically light brown or tan in color. They are primarily raised for meat production and are known for their tender and flavorful meat. They are hardy and well adapted to hot and humid environments.
24. Sahel-type Sheep
Sahel-type sheep are a group of indigenous African hair sheep breeds that are found in the Sahel region of Africa. They have a short hair coat that is typically white, cream, or brown in color. They are well adapted to hot and dry environments and are primarily raised for meat production. They are known for their hardiness and their ability to survive on poor-quality forage.
25. Santa Inês Sheep
Santa Inês is a breed of domestic hair sheep that is native to northeastern Brazil. They have a short hair coat that is typically white, cream, brown, black, or a combination of these colors. They are medium-sized sheep, and are primarily raised for meat production. They are known for their hardiness and their ability to thrive in hot and arid environments.
26. Somali Sheep
Somali sheep is a breed of domestic sheep that is found primarily in Somalia, as well as in other countries in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. They have a short hair coat that is typically white in color with black or dark brown head. They are primarily raised for meat and milk production, and are known for their rich and flavorful meat. They are a hardy breed, well-adapted to arid and semi-arid environments.
Meat and dairy sheep farmers who have no need for wool are starting to farm with hair sheep breeds. Many hair sheep breeds exist, and they come with many advantages – the most practical reason being they don't need shearing. This saves farmers the expense of hiring expensive shearers every year.