The biggest wild sheep in the world is the Argali, while the biggest domesticated breed of sheep is the Suffolk. The Guinness World Record holder for the biggest sheep in the world belongs to a Suffolk ram weighing 545 pounds.
Table of Contents
What’s the biggest sheep in the world?
The Guinness World Record holder for biggest sheep is a Suffolk ram named Stratford Whisper. “Stratford” stood 43 in (1.09 m) tall at the shoulders and weighed 545 lbs (247.2 kg) at three years old. He was owned by American farmers Joseph and Susan Schallberger of Boring, Oregon.
When Stratford was born, he weighed only 19 lbs. Even some of the ewe lambs weighed more. But by the time Stratford was three months old, he weighed 178 lbs – more than any lamb ever born at that farm.
Eventually, Stratford grew so big he could not be weighed by the farm’s scale, which maxed out at 500 pounds.
The biggest domestic sheep breeds
Many domestic sheep breeds produce large sheep, including:
- Border Leicester
- North American
Suffolk sheep are the biggest overall.
Mature Suffolk rams can weigh up to 400 lbs. Mature Suffolk ewes can weigh up to 300 lbs.
Many sheep farmers and breeders choose Suffolk rams as a terminal sire in order to mate with other breeds and produce larger sheep. This increases the value of Suffolk sheep. For example, at the 2019 California Ram Sale, Suffolk rams sold for the highest average price ($691 each).
Crossbreeding with Suffolk rams leads to:
- Better growth weight
- Better growth rate
- Improved sheep meat quality
The biggest wild sheep breed
The biggest wild sheep breed is the Argali. It is native to the Altai Mountains and is found in the highlands of Central Asia.
The word “argali” means “ram” in Mongolian. The breed has nine recognized subspecies.
Some Argali rams can grow up to 49 in (1.25 m) in height and weigh at least 300 lbs (140 kg).
Among the nine subspecies, the Pamir argali produces the largest rams. It is also known as the Marco Polo crossbred sheep. It was named after Marco Polo, the Italian traveler who first described its crossbreeding process in the 13th century.
The eight other subspecies of Argali are:
- Altai argali
- Karaganda argali
- Kara Tau argali
- Gobi argali
- North China argali
- Severtzov argali
- Tian Shen argali
- Tibetan argali
Argali rams and ewes have horns, though the ewes grow smaller pairs. The rams grow two impressive corkscrew horns. Horns can grow up to 6 ft 3 in (1.9 m) and weigh up to 51 lbs (23 kg).
Conservation efforts to protect the Argali
Argali sheep are listed as near-threatened. In some areas, they are considered endangered. This is because of trophy-hunting and poaching. Sports hunters kill wild rams for their horns.
Argali horns are used in traditional Chinese medicine. Because of this, illegal activities to get their horns have been rampant for decades. It has wiped out Aragli sheep from parts of Mongolia, northeastern China, and southern Siberia.
Several efforts to conserve and protect the Argali have been in motion for decades. There are groups in Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and other countries involved in the effort. They aim to protect the Argali and stop illegal hunting.
The Kazakhstan Argali Sheep Conservation Initiative is one of these efforts. It is part of the Safari Club International (SCI) Foundation. The SCI Foundation has partnered with the Wild Sheep Foundation and the Republic of Kazakhstan to protect the Tian Shen argali.