I recently received a question via blog comment from a reader about which sheep breeds would survive and thrive best in a warm environment.
At first, my plan was to just respond to her comment, but then I realized, “Hey! That would make an excellent blog post.”
After all, I’m sure there are plenty of people out there wondering which types of sheep do best in extremely warm (or conversely, extremely cold climates).
If you live in a super warm or arid environment and think that raising sheep isn’t an option for you (because, after all, um… wool) then take a few minutes to read this post.
Not only is it possible, but it’s practical – in fact, many of the warmest countries in the world (India, Australia, and Sudan) are also in the top five for global sheep production.
Ready to learn more? Here are the top sheep breeds for warm (and cold!) environments.
**J&R Pierce Family Farm is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to allow sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products on Amazon. I often link to Amazon when recommending certain products, and if you choose to purchase, I may earn a small percentage of the sale. It costs you nothing extra, and all recommended products are ones that I personally vouch for. **
What to Look For
Sheep are incredibly versatile livestock, able to be used in a variety of capacities. Whether your sheep are your primary source of farm income or merely on your property as part of a hobby, breed selection is of paramount importance.
This is especially true if you are raising sheep in an extreme environment – either very cold or very hot.
When you’re considering breeds, do some research into where the breed was developed. If a sheep breed originated in South Africa, it’s probably not going to be well-suited to life in Iceland.
As a general rule of thumb, fine wool breeds and hair sheep (or those native to desert areas) are the best choices for hot, dry climates, particularly ones in which feed is scarce. If it’s particularly hot and humid, such as in Florida or other areas surrounding the Gulf Coast, hair sheep of tropical origins will be your best bet.
In a cold climate, though, a long wool breed or a meat breed will be a better choice. If you’re interested in raising a dairy breed, know that environmental adaptability may not be quite as important – your sheep should be able to adjust. For instance, hair sheep often grow thicker coats in colder climates, meaning you can often raise sheep designed for warmer climates in areas that are decidedly much cooler.
When you are selecting a breed, think about what your ultimate goal in raising sheep is. If you don’t really care about the wool, you’ll be better off raising a hair sheep. Not only will you not have to worry about your sheep overheating with a heavy coat of wool, but you’ll save money and time by not needing to shear them regularly.
You should also think about parasite resistance and breeding capabilities. Some sheep breeds are naturally more resistant to parasites, while others are excellent mothers, producing twins or even triplets at lambing time. These factors all play a role in the suitability of a breed for your specific climate – and your specific farm.
The Top 10 Sheep Breeds for Hot Climates
The Barbados Blackbelly is what is known as an unimproved or landrace sheep breed. It is indigenous to a tropical climate and thrives in warm weather. It is one of many hair sheep, meaning it sheds its hair instead of needing to be sheared each year.
The Katahdin sheep breed was developed in Maine to help clear brush in powerline corridors. Despite its origins in a cold northern climate, the Katahdin is remarkably well-suited to warm weather living. It was bred from West African hair sheep and is extremely well-adapted to hot, humid conditions.
Closely related to the Barbados Blackbelly, the American Blackbelly is common in Latin America. It has genes of a wild mountain sheep found in the Mediterranean – a sheep by the name of the mouflon. It’s another hair sheep that doesn’t require shearing.
West African Dwarf
If you plan on making money with your sheep, I wouldn’t commend the West African Dwarf. However, if you’re looking for a good pet sheep breed, this is a good option. A tiny hair breed, its native to the tropical forests of central and west Africa, and it actually looks more like a mountain goat than a sheep. It has a slow growth rate and only produces about one lamb per year.
The St. Croix is a descendant of the West African hair sheep, but some people believe they could be crossed between Wiltshire White and Criollos heep. Either way, the St. Croix breed is a good choice if you want to raise a hair sheep in a warm climate, as it has a high rate of multiple births and is incredibly docile.
The Royal White is another popular hybrid sheep breed. Crossed between the Dorper and the St. Croix, the Royal White is a relatively new breed that is nonetheless well-suited to warm weather.
The Dorper breed was developed specifically for mutton in the 1930s. Another hair breed, it was created as a cross between the Dorset and the Blackheaded Persian sheep. Since it was originally bred to be raised in South Africa, this breed is perfect for warm areas.
Native to Russia, this ancient breed grows a coat of wool that it sheds in the summer. It starts mating at just a few months of age and frequently produces quadruplet births. In fact, the world record litter size is held by a Romanov that bore nine lambs!
The Red Maasai is an ancient breed traditionally raised by nomadic Maasai tribesmen in eastern Africa. It is incredibly disease-resistant and, due to its natural origins, very heat-tolerant. However, it’s rare and increasingly difficult to find.
Blackhead Persian sheep are tolerant of hot, humid conditions in regions like the Carribean and Somalia. With a white body and black head, these sheep are hair sheep with compact bodies. They are highly efficient at shaking the heat.
The Top 10 Sheep Breeds for Cold Climates
Icelandic sheep, along with other long wool sheep breeds, are native to cool, wet climates. Many long-wooled breeds in the United States trace their ancestry to the British Isles, which are known for being cold and damp.
Black Welsh Mountain
A small sheep breed, the Black Welsh Mountain is a seasonally breeding sheep, meaning it will only reproduce once a year. This makes it a good option for cold climates where winter lambing is not only impractical but dangerous. It has good resistance to fly-strike and footrot and is often raised for meat (though it can also be raised for its fleece).
The Shetland sheep breed is a multicolored sheep that is regarded as a primitive breed. In fact, most records suggest that this breed dates back at least a thousand years. A hardy sheep that’s also a good lamber, the Shetland produces meat that’s known for its fine flavor. It’s native to England and can thrive in harsh conditions.
Texels are originally from the Netherlands, and while they’re poor herders, they have excellent lambing rates and do well on pasture. Developed several decades ago, they are still relatively new to the United States.
Though native to California, this sheep breed is one of the best when raised in harsh areas like Canada, Colorado, Idaho, and other areas. It can be raised in warm and cool environments, but it should be noted that this breed is a non-seasonal breeder. If you don’t want winter lambs, be wary.
The Tunis sheep can thrive in both cold and warm climates, but since this sheep is native to the United States (in Pennsylvania) I’ve included it in my list of the best cold-hardy breeds. It has a strong lambing rate and can thrive on marginal land. It is also resistant to a number of parasites and diseases.
As the name implies, the Leicester Longwool is best raised for wool production. It is a threatened breed, but, since it is native to England, it is one of the best you can raise in cold, damp areas.
The Oxford sheep is designed to grow quickly and vigorously on lush pasture. Ewes are known for being heavy milkers but these sheep are often raised for fleece and for meat, too. They are also native to England.
The Southdown sheep is a small to medium-sized sheep that is native to England. It has poor heat tolerance but is otherwise adaptable, and is one of the best at maturing lambs for the Easter market. It’s a seasonal breeder so you won’t need to worry about winter lambs.
The Romney sheep is originally from the marshy areas of England and is well-adapted to cool, wet environments. It’s particularly resistant to internal parasites as well as hoof rot and is an excellent dual-purpose breed.
Tips for Raising Sheep in Extreme Climates
It doesn’t matter what kind of climate you live in – your success in raising sheep is really going to depend on how good of a shepherd you are.
Heat stress – or freezing temperatures – can be just as damaging to animals as they are to people. It’s true that some livestock tolerate heat better than others. While goats can handle hot weather better than sheep, sheep are much better at dealing with the climbing mercury than llamas, alpacas, or other animals.
While it might seem that wool makes your sheep hotter, remember that it acts as an insulator. It can protect your animals from extreme heat as well as extreme cold. It’s generally a good idea to shear your animals prior to the onset of hot weather – but leave enough time for some of it to regrow.
Shear in the spring, and you’ll let the animals put some wool back on in order to keep them insulated and cool in the summer. By the time winter rolls around, they’ll have a full coat to keep them warm. Try to avoid shearing your sheep in extreme heat. It can make them more susceptible to stress and other issues.
Provide plenty of clean, fresh water during all seasons. This is necessary both in the summer and in the winter. A sheep will drink up to two gallons of water each day – but this requirement increases during extremely hot or extremely cold weather (or when your sheep are pregnant or lactating).
It will also behoove you to provide your animals with access to plenty of shade and shelter out of the wind. This doesn’t have to be complicated -it could be as simple as leaving a few trees standing in the paddock or hanging a tarp to allow for some coverage from the harsh summer sun.
Want to learn more about farming? Be sure to check out these articles!
- 12 Reasons Why Sheep Are the Coolest Livestock You Can Raise
- Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Lambing (But Didn’t Want to Ask!)
- 12 Common Hoof Problems in Sheep
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