Black sheep breeds are some of the most beautiful in the world. Some are ancient (Black Welsh Mountain, Scottish Blackface, and Jacob sheep), while others developed more recently (Balwen Welsh Mountain sheep, Zwartbles, and Blackheaded Dorper sheep). In this article we'll dive into the details of nine stunning black sheep breeds.
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Black Welsh Mountain sheep
The Black Welsh Mountain breed of sheep can be traced back to the Middle Ages. The breed has always been coveted for its high-quality mutton and fiber. First brought to North America in the 1970s, today, it can be found across the US, the UK, and Ireland.
Black Welsh Mountain sheep are small to medium-sized. Adult rams and ewes can weigh up to 140 pounds. Rams are typically horned, while ewes are polled. The Black Welsh Mountain breed is a wooled, entirely black sheep breed.
This is a dual-purpose breed used for wool and meat. The wool is convenient for hand spinners and wool weavers due to its density and shortness of fibers.
Scottish Blackface sheep
Scottish Blackface is another ancient breed bred since the Middle Ages. It developed in Scotland and England. Perth, Lanark, and Northumberland are the three types of the Scottish Blackface breed.
Scottish Blackface rams range from 150 to 180 pounds. An average ewe can weigh up to 160 pounds. Both are horned. These are white sheep with black faces and black legs sometimes speckled with white color. The breed is highly adaptable and can thrive in any farming conditions. It’s often crossbred, sought after in the meat industry due to being lean fleshed.
Balwen Welsh Mountain sheep
The Balwen Welsh Mountain sheep breed originated in Wales in the 1940s. It’s a rare breed in the United Kingdom.
Balwen Welsh Mountain sheep are small mountain sheep. Rams are horned and weigh up to 150 pounds, while ewes are polled and lighter, at about 125 pounds. A Balwen Welsh Mountain sheep is typically black with white extremities and a white blaze on its face.
Although Zwartbles have a similar color pattern to the Balwen Welsh Mountain breed, they aren’t related. Zwartbles come from Friesland, Netherlands, and were introduced to other countries in the 70s. Today, they can be found in the US, UK, Ireland, France, and other parts of the world.
The Zwartbles breed of sheep is hornless, black-bodied, medium-sized, with medium to coarse wool. It’s a dual-purpose breed. Males weigh around 200 pounds; females, 150. The breed has a characteristic white blaze on the face and white tail and legs. It’s typically a black sheep breed, but sometimes the sheep can be gray or dark brown.
Hebridean is a rare black sheep breed that was first bred in Scotland in the mid-19th century. It’s a small breed. Adult Hebridean sheep can weigh up to 130 pounds. The males are usually a bit larger than the females. This is a four-horned sheep breed, as most rams have four horns. Ewes are generally horned, and rarely can be polled.
The breed is solid black and wooled, with the exception of legs and faces, which don’t grow wool. The wool often turns brown in the sun and can become gray or silver from aging. Hebridean sheep have short tails.
Shropshire sheep became popular in the 1850s in New Zealand, Australia, and South America, and later in other parts of the world.
Being medium-sized, mature ewes range from 150 to 180 pounds. Rams can reach 250 pounds. Both genders are hornless. The breed is wooled with a staple length of 2.5 to four inches. The sheep have white or light brown bodies and black faces and legs.
The Suffolk breed originated in Suffolk, England. Suffolk sheep resulted from crossbreeding Southdown and Norfolk breeds in the early 1800s. The breed was imported to the US in 1886 and became recognized nationwide by 1920.
Suffolk mature males are large and can weigh up to 360 pounds, while females usually weigh around 250 pounds. The breed is polled and considered a meat breed. Although lambs are often born entirely black, fully grown Suffolk sheep have white bodies with black faces, ears, and legs.
The Jacob sheep breed is a British black breed of sheep. It’s an ancient breed of domestic sheep that started getting recognized in the UK in the mid-17th century.
Jacob sheep are multi-horned (polycerate) white sheep with black spots. The number of horns ranges from two to six. Small to medium-sized, females average at about 90 pounds; males, at 110 pounds. The breed grows medium to coarse wool with a three to six-inch staple length.
Blackheaded Dorper sheep
The Blackheaded Dorper breed is native to South Africa. It was first seen in the 1940s and imported into Australia half a century later. This breed is a result of crossbreeding Dorset Horn and Blackhead Persian specimens.
The breed is characterized by being white-bodied and black-headed. These sheep sometimes have black necks or white speckles on their heads. Mature ewes weigh around 180 pounds. Rams weigh up to 210 pounds.
Blackheaded Dorpers are hair sheep that only grow wool during the winter and sheds naturally in spring, so they can’t be used for wool. Moreover, they produce minimal amounts of milk. Therefore, it’s almost exclusively a meat breed.
How rare are black sheep?
Black sheep are rare in general due to the recessive gene that causes black fleece. The odds of a black lamb are about 25 percent. However, some breeds mentioned in this article are always born jet black, such as Black Welsh Mountain sheep.
What are some other black sheep breeds?
Other examples of black sheep breeds include:
- Hampshire sheep (developed in England)
- Valais Blacknose sheep (have a Switzerland origin)
- Bluefaced Leicester (a British sheep breed)
- Najdi sheep (native to the Najd region, Saudi Arabia)
- Kerry Hill sheep (named after Kerry village)
- Black Hawaiian sheep
- Black Katahdin sheep
- Arapawa Island sheep
- Ouessant sheep
- Clun Forest sheep
- Blackheaded Persian sheep
- Romanov sheep