The Woolly World of Sheep
With over 300 breeds of sheep around the world, understanding the difference between a Romney and a Rambouillet can be a bit confusing – or shall we say, woolly. Sheep are one of the most common agricultural animals, bred for their wool, milk, meat, and even for their good looks. Here’s a selection of some of our favorite sheep breeds.
Or shall we say Viking sheep? The Icelandic Sheep was brought to this small island nation by early Norwegian settlers. It’s as cold hardy as its forbearers and thrives in harsh, inhospitable environments. They’re raised primarily for their meat, but the wool is becoming sought after for its unique texture and quality.
Herdwick Sheep Grazing on the Old Man of Coniston, Cumbria Photo courtesy of Barry Marsh
The author Beatrix Potter (of Peter Rabbit) was a great champion of the Herdwick. She won a number of prizes for her show ewes and donated 4,000 acres of farmland to the National Trust. The Herdwick is traditionally raised in the Lake District in the north of England. This is another hearty breed – Herdwick’s have been known to survive for three days in the snow, eating their own wool (which, incidentally, is highly prized for its anti-blizzard properties!)
This reddish-brown German sheep was nearly wiped out during World War II. Their distinct color is most pronounced in lambs, but adult sheep retain some of that rich hue around their heads and legs. After a recent movement to preserve the breed, the Coburger Fuchsschaf is now used primarily in landscape preservation.
Count ‘em – four, sometimes six horns on a single sheep! The Manx Loaghtan is a rare Northern European breed that exists primarily on the Isle of Man. Its meat is considered a delicacy, though the wool is often used in various tweeds.
Originally from England, you can now find Romney sheep all over the world – from New Zealand to the United States. It produces a strong, heavy wool that is often used in rugs and cushions. If you’re looking to take up handspinning, Romney wool is great for beginners as its fibers are significantly longer than other breeds, like Merino.
Photo courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library
Also known as the French Merino, the Rambouillet officially became a breed when King Louis XVI purchased 300 Spanish Merinos for his royal farm. The Rambouillet produces beautiful merino wool, but is also prized for its meat as well.