It can be daunting to pick out the best sheep breed if you're just starting out. Different breeds are better for different uses—the best sheep to keep as a pet is not the same as the best sheep to raise for meat or wool. The following list of best sheep breeds for beginners will help you find the best sheep breed for your use case.
What to consider when picking a beginner sheep breed
Key elements to consider when picking your sheep breed are:
- How easily they can be managed: Some sheep are easier to manage than others based on requirements for shearing, vaccinations, and deworming. Hair sheep tend to be lower maintenance than wool sheep. Keep in mind also that rams are more difficult to manage than ewes or wethers.
- Growth rate: Some breeds grow faster than others, and some breeds are more fertile or prolific than others. An example of a breed with a fast growth rate is the Suffolk.
- Friendly vs Unfriendly: When you are a beginner, it’s better to have err on the side of a sheep breed with a friendly temperament.
- Wool vs Meat: Before getting a sheep, decide what you’re using it for: meat, wool, milk, dual-purpose, or as a pet. Meat sheep, like the Dorset, Suffolk, or Hampshire, tend to put on weight faster than other breeds.
- Big vs Small Farm: Consider whether you’re starting a big or small farm. Commercial farmers may opt for different breeds than homesteaders with a couple acres of land.
Cheat sheet: what breed of sheep to get (for beginners)
|Pet or backyard sheep||Dorper, Babydoll Southdown, Mini Cheviot, St Croix|
|Sheep shows||Hampshire, Suffolk|
|Wool||Romney, Cotswold, Merino|
|Meat||Suffolk, Dorset, Hampshire|
|Easy to handle||Suffolk, Polypay, Blue Faced Leicester|
Best sheep to get as a pet or as backyard sheep
A pet sheep should either be a castrated male, a wether, or a ewe. The Dorper is a common choice. Other breeds that make good pets include the Babydoll Southdown, Mini Cheviot, and St. Croix.
Best beginner sheep for shows
Good choices for sheep to show are the Hampshire sheep or Suffolk sheep. As a general rule, dark-faced sheep do better in shows than white-faced sheep like the Dorset or Rambouliette.
Polypay sheep are exceptionally fast-growing, with good mothering instincts and a high chance of producing twins or triplets.
Best beginner sheep breeds for wool
- Romney: Romney sheep are primarily raised for wool production and are known for their high quality.
- Cotswold: The Cotswold is docile and easy to manage, with excellent wool.
- Merino: The Merino is one of the best sheep wool breeds in the world and an excellent choice for beginners. They have been domesticated extensively and are easy to handle.
Best beginner sheep breeds for meat
- Suffolk: Suffolk sheep are easy to herd and manage. They are intelligent and learn routines quickly. They produce excellent meat, with lambs maturing as early as 9-12 weeks.
- Dorset: Dorset sheep reproduce year-round and have superior meat quality.
- Hampshire: Hampshire sheep are large, stocky sheep with a high-yield and tasty meat. They are mild-mannered, and their lambs grow fast.
Friendliest sheep breeds
- Suffolk: Suffolk sheep are friendly and easy to handle.
- Blue Faced Leicester: The Blue Faced Leicester is a British breed with a friendly, curious disposition.
- Polypay: Polypay sheep can breed out of season and tend to be easy to work with.