New Mexico Dahl Sheep

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new mexico dahl sheep

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By Donald Chávez Y Gilbert

At this point readers who are considering getting into the rewarding sheep business are begging the question “what next.” This section provides an overview of the pluses and minuses of raising hair sheep.

Selling Points:

The hair sheep industry is experiencing a wave of popularity since the synthetic fabric industry has displaced much of the wool industry. Several relatively new hair breeds have emerged that have spurred more interest. Consequently hair sheep numbers have shown a dramatic increase in numbers. What’s more, the phase-out of government wool subsidies has made the harvesting of medium quality wools from typical farm flock operations less economically feasible, and shearing has became a major deterrent. Consequently, there is a growing shift in the sheep industry towards "easy-care" sheep that perform well under forage-based systems with limited managerial inputs, which are in line with the production traits of hair sheep breeds. Hair sheep have several unique traits that appeal to livestock producers who want to diversify their enterprises.

  • They are easy keepers, being more hardy and disease/parasite resistant than woolies; lambs having fewer birthing complications and being more vigorous with low mortality rates.
  • Horned hair sheep tolerate heat better for two reasons. 1., Most conspicuously, they lose their insulating wool in warm months, but, 2, they cool themselves more efficiently by radiating body heat into the atmosphere through their horns like other hot climate animals like native African wild Watusi cattle.
  • Their meat is tastier, leaner, and healthier.
  • New Mexico Dahl sheep frequently have dark colored hooves which require less maintenance as they wear longer.
  • They make money for the producer. By comparison, they are cheaper to feed as 20% of food consumption goes into the production (growth) of wool in wooled breeds.
  • They are cheaper to feed also because they require lower levels of protein to achieve the same weight gains and growth, surviving on low quality grasses and weeds. In fact they thrive on low nutrient browse that other sheep breeds would suffer and die on, and prefer weeds and short grasses that horses and cattle will not eat.
  • They are compatible with most other livestock in terms of shared space and diet.
  • They are non-seasonal breeders, more prolific than other breeds, (greater twining fecundity), with strong mothering instincts.
  • They are easier to manage than goats.
  • They are more alert and possess a strong herding instinct which reduces losses due to predation. Rams frequently will turn and fight feral dogs and other canines.
  • Pelts of these sheep produce high quality leather that has a high potential for sales. Hair sheep leather is prized for strength, elasticity and lack of blemishes caused by wool follicles. Leather from hair sheep has the softness of wool sheep leather, but the strength and elasticity of leather from haired livestock species. Hair sheep leather combines the best attributes of both haired and woolen species. This market is in the early development stage.
  • The growing ethnic market demand for sheep has made them a desirable enterprise with increased cash flow by the October through Easter price premiums for sheep. The proportion of lamb consumed by the ethnic markets is steadily increasing. These markets generally prefer the leaner, lighter carcasses typical of hair sheep and their crosses.
  • Taste studies show a preference for the taste of hair sheep meat over the mutton flavor of wooled breeds.
  • They are less labor intensive as intact males may be desired, so docking and castration practices are minimized. They require little or no worming depending on pasturing practices.
  • Numbers of available breeding animals for most hair sheep breeds are limited, so demand and prices are high. Thompson Temple, the marketer who started the hair sheep trophy ram book, estimates that 15,000-20,000 4 yr old plus rams wholesale priced at $350-$500 a head average sell each year. Retail hunts range from $1,200.00 to $30,000.00 per hunt. This agri-tourism business is grossing $5,000,000 to $10,000,000 per year just in animal sales and not including hunting fees, outfitting and other incomes for the producer. Trophy ram prices ranged between $500.00 and $3,000.00 each in the 1990s and now are in the tens of thousands for a trophy ram with horns in excess of 40 inches in length.
  • Vegetation and Pest Insect Control: Increased use of sheep to manage pest plant and insect species is particularly well suited to hair sheep as contamination of wool by organic or vegetable matter decreases value of the clip. Data provided by Dr. Pat Hatfield of Montana State University indicates that grazing sheep can provide substantial control of sawfly in wheat and alfalfa weevil. Of particular interest is the short term grazing of alfalfa by sheep, which resulted in significant decrease in weevils with no decrease in alfalfa yield. Sheep are being used around the USA for control of pest plants such as kudzu, brush, spotted knapweed and leafy spurge. In areas where herbicides are not an option, easy care hair sheep function well.

In short, these breeds normally have strong tendencies for no wool, internal parasite resistance, prolific lamb production, good mother habits, grazing low quality forage and browse. A recent comprehensive literature review (by D.R. Notter at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg 24061-0306 and published in the American Society of Animal Science, 1999) discusses these traits and origins in more detail. All domestic hair sheep in the U.S. originated from hair sheep from Africa first imported by the Spanish and Portuguese colonists beginning in the 15th century.

These sheep tend to store fat internally, reach market conditions on forage, and contain more healthy fatty acids with less fat on commercial cuts with a unique desirable flavor. Thus, they have their own unique market for meat. That market is the ethnic market which is as high and seasonally higher, price wise, as the traditional lamb market. Very light lambs are often in high demand in this niche market. Meat associated preponderance such as fatty acid contents, HDL/LDL cholesterol levels and total fat show in early studies of hair sheep, the pure hair sheep breeds have been shown to have a more healthy meat that is similar to goat meat. Both animal species tend to store their fat internally.

Minimally, you can expect 150 percent lamb crop (one lambing) with the ewes which bear a single lamb, and three lamb crops in two years. Ewes which consistently twin will produce twice those numbers or 300 percent lamb crop.

The potential value of the pelts in the leather market is improving as buyers are more and more recognizing that hair sheep pelts are of a better quality, comparable to goat leather.

For producers interested in further pursuing hair sheep ranching there exist two significant hair sheep meat-marketing groups, both centered in the southeastern or south central USA, as well as the United Horned Hair Sheep Association, Inc. dedicated to high standards in the hair sheep industry as well as conservation, breed promotion and education; UHHSA Email

The Scott County Hair Sheep Association in southwestern Virginia with over 200 members and 7,000 ewes has signed a contract to provide lamb to the Food City Supermarket Chain. Marketing hair sheep: the Hair Sheep Market Managing Group (HSMMG) incorporated in Arkansas and is centered in Oklahoma and Texas, but has members ranging from Texas to Nebraska to New York. As of 2006, the group has over 50 members and 10,000+ ewes. HSMMG is marketing both meat products and breeding stock and has the potential to collect 60-110 pound lambs and move them between the markets in their extensive geographic areas. A significant component of the income of both hair sheep marketing groups in 2005 is the high demand for commercial hair sheep breeding stock.

new mexico dahl sheep