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Photo: Sheep that produce hair (like this Dorper ram) instead of wool don't need shearing. Link to photo information
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Read the magazine story to find out more.

ARS Breeding Sheep With Hair--Not Wool

By David Elstein
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 keep up.

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 efficiently.

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.