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Sheep With Hair--Not Wool
April 3, 2003
In the near future, American farmers
may use breeds of sheep that have hair rather than wool, to help the farmers
stay competitive in the marketplace.
Agricultural Research Service geneticist Kreg A. Leymaster is leading a
group of researchers at the agency's Roman
L. Hruska U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Neb., to
determine which combination of breeds will best help producers compete against
breeds from Australia and New Zealand. Many of the chops and other lamb cuts
sold in the United States come from those two countries.
But why do farmers want hair-growing sheep as opposed to traditional breeds?
According to Leymaster, the price of wool has been going down. Consequently,
the cost of shearing a sheep is sometimes more than the price at which the wool
can be sold. On the other hand, demand for the meat of sheep--especially within
certain ethnic groups--is increasing dramatically, and U.S. producers cannot
Leymaster bred crosses of four breeds in 2000, 2001 and 2002. He used two
hair breeds: Katahdin, which was developed in the 1950s in Maine, and Dorper,
which was brought to the United States from South Africa seven years ago. In
the studies, he also used two wool breeds, Rambouillet and Dorset. Leymaster is
trying to find the combination of breeds that can produce meat most
He mated the four breeds to 360 Romanov ewes in 2000, 2001 and 2002, since
Romanov sheep are quicker to reach sexual maturity and produce more lambs than
other breeds. Leymaster hopes to evaluate 300 crossbred ewes of each breed
through the three years of mating.
This study is the first to directly compare the two hair breeds, and there
is only limited information on hair breeds in general.
For more information on Leymaster's research, see the
April issue of
Agricultural Research magazine.
ARS is the
U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief
scientific research agency.