Hair sheep provide benefits in decreased labor, mothering abilities and heartiness
Bart and Gay Lynn Byrd of Douglas raise a different type of sheep called hair sheep. These sheep originated from South Africa, and they do not require any shearing, for they have hair instead of wool.
“We are very happy with our hair sheep and just love them,” exclaims Gay Lynn Byrd. “They are such easy keepers and so much easier to run than wool sheep. It’s nice to not have to shear them.”
“Also, it’s a good way to run more animal units on an operation and get a second income,” says Byrd.
Switching to hair sheep
They started raising hair sheep about eight years ago, and the breeds they currently have are Blackhead and White Dorpers and Katahdins. Before switching to hair sheep the Byrds raised Rambouilet that they sometimes crossed with Suffolks.
“I got tired of barely breaking even when we had the wool sheep,” says Byrd. “We sold them and then tried goats, but then we got tired of chasing them all over the country, so we looked into hair sheep.”
The hair sheep are extremely easy to keep, and many years, the Byrds do not have to provide supplement feed to them.
“They will survive on almost nothing and continually stay in really good shape,” states Byrd. “Due to the drought, there isn’t very much grass, and when we did feed them they just walked away from the hay. They didn’t even clean it up.”
Byrd goes on to explain the ewes are very good mothers, and she rarely sees a bum lamb.
“I don’t know if the ewes adopt them or what,” says Byrd. “We don’t have nearly the amount of bum lambs as we used to with our wool sheep.”
Another advantage with the hair sheep is the high docking percentage seen.
“The very lowest docking percent that we’ve had is 110, and that was because of terrible weather and storms during lambing season. We’ve docked as high as a 132 percent lamb crop,” explains Byrd, “and that’s range lambing. We don’t put anything through the shed.”
The hair sheep are also very easy to finish for market solely on grass.
“We’ve had them on alfalfa hay with no grain or anything, and they are very good to eat,” says Byrd. “They are a very good one to have for just a range-type operation.”
One of the downsides to raising hair sheep is that they tend to become too fat.
“When they get heavy with lambs in the spring, we generally ride through them daily to roll them off of their backs,” says Byrd. “They are almost too square, with a very flat back and short legs. This causes them to be unable to get up when they have laid down and roll over a bit.”
Byrd adds, “We’ve lost too many that way.”
To help prevent the incidence of that occurring Byrd has predicted the ideal range sheep to be a mixture of a Dorper with a slimmer body type, such cross as a Katahdin.
Byrd also notes the heartiness of hair sheep when compared to wool sheep is an advantage.
“I also think they may fight off the coyotes a little better than other sheep,” says Byrd. “I notice these hair sheep are harder to move with my dog. They’ll stand there and fight a working stock dog more than the wool sheep would. The hair sheep stay home better than goats do, as well.”
She further adds that the sheep aren’t worked frequently and are low-labor livestock.
“Overall, we don’t work them that much. We dock the lambs in the spring, wean them in the fall and mouth and bag our ewes then,” she explains. “Then in mid-February when we take our bucks out we go ahead and treat them for tick.”
Byrd adds, “Those are the only times of the year we do anything with them, besides moving them from pasture to pasture.”
Hair sheep pelts
One of the major drawbacks to hair sheep is the non-existing market in the United States for the leather of hair sheep.
“Other lamb pelts can be sold with either the wool on or taken off, but with the hair sheep, their pelts are docked regardless of what the pelts are bringing,” explains Gay Lynn Byrd, producer of hair sheep. “They claim there is no way the pelts with the hair on can be used.”
“In South Africa, they claim hair sheep pelts are worth a premium for leather and they will pay for it, but there is no market in the U.S. right now for it,” says Byrd. “If wool pelts are bringing eight dollars, the hair sheep are going to see a dock of eight dollars.”
Byrd notes that they sell enough lambs to offset the discount, meaning they make more money from their Dorper sheep.
“There are a lot of these hair sheep in Texas, but it hasn’t really expanded like we thought it might,” says Byrd. “We thought it would have really taken off up here by now. They used to have a show at state fair for a few years, but there wasn’t enough people coming to it.”