If you are interested in raising sheep on your homestead, it is important to give a great deal of thought to the breed of sheep. If you think sheep always have wool, then think again! Hair sheep are the way to go for raising sheep in tropical climates.
The 3 top breeds of sheep for the tropics are Barbados, St Croix and Katahdin. Hair sheep thrive in tropical climates and are more naturally resistant to common diseases and parasites. Their short hair instead of wool also helps keeps them cooler in warm climates.
|American Blackbelly||Texas, USA||Hair|
|Katahdin||West Africa and North America||Hair|
|West African Dwarf||West Africa||Hair|
|St Croix||West Africa||Hair|
|Royal White||Texas – USA||Hair and Wool|
|Dorper||South Africa||Hair and Wool|
|Blackheaded Persian||Somalia – Africa||Hair|
It’s pretty obvious that sheep covered in wool would overheat in tropical weather and they would require being shaved on a regular basis to prevent becoming unwell from the heat. But that is not the only reason why hair sheep do well in Hawai’i – disease resistance is a big factor, too.
Why Hair Sheep Are The Best Breeds For The Tropics
The best breeds for tropical climates like Hawai’i are hair sheep. These sheep tolerate warm temperatures better than sheep with thick, heavy wool coats. I personally raise Barbados Blackbellies, Katadhins and St Croix breed because they are all well-suited to Hawai’i’s climate. Their hair is naturally shed each year, which makes them easy to maintain.
While cold climates see sheep covered in wool for warmth, tropical climates are ideal for sheep with hair. If wooled sheep were to reside in a tropical climate they would need to be regularly shaved to keep them from overheating in the hot weather.
If you aren’t raising a flock to sell at the market for meat, sheep also do another important job – as living lawnmowers. Seriously, the Katahdin sheep were originally bred in the state of Maine in order to graze the area for power lines, as an inexpensive alternative to hiring labor.
That was the major selling point for me. Grass can grow overnight in the wet tropics and I got tired of mowing the lawn every day. Instead, I got sheep. They do an excellent job of maintaining short grass wherever they are allowed to graze.
Parasites and Diseases
Another important reason why hair sheep breeds do well in tropical environments is basic adaptation: breeds from West Africa or the Caribbean are more resistant to the common diseases and parasites found in tropical climates.
Likewise, wooled sheep do well in their native climates and show stronger immunity to diseases common in temperate regions. Drastically changing the climate that a sheep has adapted to generally doesn’t go well: the sheep will be more susceptible to illness and parasites and therefore not thrive.
Stomach or intestinal worms are a major concern for sheep everywhere. As grass-grazers, that sometimes tear up grass or forbs by the roots, sheep can easily ingest tiny worm larvae found in the top layer of soil. It then grows in their stomach/intestines and is expelled in their feces, which combines again with the soil and starts the cycle all over again as the flock grazes in the pasture.
Dry environments see a bit less of a problem with these parasites because worms need moisture to survive and reproduce. But, as you may have guessed, the warm, humid climate of Hawai’i is just perfect for these worms.
That’s why it’s important to choose breeds that are more resistant to parasites to begin with. That doesn’t mean you won’t have to treat for worms or parasites, just that your flock will naturally be stronger against these health concerns.
Types of parasites common in tropical areas include:
Barber pole worms This nasty parasite sucks blood in the sheep’s stomach and will cause the sheep to become weak and anemic.
Tape Worms may cause the animal to lose weight or fail to gain adequate weight, but they typically are not fatal.
Coccidia is a parasite that lives in sheep, and nearly every sheep will be infected with some type of coccidia in their lifetime. There are many types of coccidia, but only two very dangerous ones (Eimeria ovinoidalis and Eimeria crandallis). These two specific types of coccidia cause serious gastro-intestinal issues in sheep, especially lambs.
Infected members of the flock will have diarrhea, often which is bloody and develop a poor body condition. The infection is known as coccidiosis, which is one of the leading killers of young lambs in Hawai’i.
Haemonchus is a common nematode found in tropical areas and can cause a fatal infection. Early onset is marked by anemia and swelling, later symptoms include lesions and an increase of Ph levels of the stomach. Haemonchus is especially dangerous to nursing ewes.
Treatment and Prevention
Preventative measures to reduce parasitic infections in the first line of defense for any sheep owners. It is good practice to give enough grazing space and to alternate grazing areas regularly to reduce the possibility of sheep having contact with contaminated feces.
If some of your sheep appear to be anemic or have diarrhea, separate them from the others until their symptoms have passed or they have completed a full treatment regime to rid them of intestinal worms. Check your sheep’s feces regularly, looking for small white pieces which could be worm larvae or pieces of tapeworms.
Resilience against parasites cannot be underrated, that is why it is imperative that you select a breed of sheep that is naturally resistant to parasites due to adaptation. All other efforts to prevent disease will be much easier when you also bring into the equation a sheep breed that has been thriving in the tropics for centuries.
Treatments include regular deworming (this can also be used as a preventative approach) with anthelmintic drugs. However, overuse of deworming medications can actually backfire and make worms resistant to the drugs and then become ineffective.
It’s suggested that farmers or homesteaders not attempt to eliminate parasites entirely, but help their flocks to become resistant and immune to the effects, instead.
Hair sheep are typically raised for meat and sold at the market based on their weight.
Some breeds look like what most of us recognize as sheep – such as the Katadhins and Dorpers.
However, the Barbados Blackbellies and West African Dwarf breeds may initially look like goats to some, because of the distinct long hair and horns, but they are true sheep and live in flocks and graze just like sheep.
Some breeds are hybrids, selectively bred to create an animal that is ideal for tropical climates, but also great for meat production. The Dorper, for example, is mixed with Dorset sheep, which are wooled sheep that are raised primarily for meat and make for a hearty breed.
Some hybrids in the list above include:
|Royal White||St Croix / Dorper|
|Dorper||Blackhead Persian / Dorset|
|Katahdins||St Croix / Suffolk (among other British breeds)|
|American Blackbelly||Barbados Blackbelly and Mouflon|
Not all sheep are created equal. In fact, sheep are often selectively bred in order to bring out specific traits, especially when raised for meat, or to thrive in tropical climates.
Did you know that some breeds have been found to be more resistant to pesky hoof-rot than others?
And some are naturally resistant to parasites, too!
That’s why it is so important to go with a hair sheep when raising a flock in a tropical environment.
Here are some specific facts about each of the breeds mentioned in the table above.
These sheep may have originated long ago from Africa, but they have been in the Caribbean for centuries. Either way, they are native to tropical climates and do well in Hawai’i.
As hair sheep, they shed their hair and do not need to be shaved. They also have beautiful colorings and a nice temperament.
Barbados Blackbellies is a meat sheep, but their appeal to me as a breed on my homestead is that they are hoof-rot resistant and naturally resistant to common intestinal worms found throughout my area.
Further, they are very low-maintenance and tend to ‘fend for themselves pretty well in terms of grazing. They are a great option for beginners.
A cousin to Barbados Blackbellies, the American Blackbelly breed is found throughout Central America, parts of Mexico and the Southern United States. This breed was created in Texas by selective breeding of Barbados Blackbellies, Rambouillets and Mouflons.
This combination of sheep combines wild, Mediterranean breeds (Mouflon) that are very hearty, with a wool sheep (Rambouillet). They are raised primarily for meat and do wonderful in hot climates. They are also known to be resistant to worm infections, making them a great choice for the tropics.
The Katahdin sheep are named for Mt. Katahdin, in Maine, as they were a selectively-bred type of sheep that originated in this northern state. They are a hybrid with St Croix, making them great for tropical climates.
In cold areas, they naturally grow a wooly underbelly to manage cold winters, but in Hawai’i, they have no need and simply shed their hair on an annual basis.
They are a low-maintenance breed and great for their meat.
West African Dwarf
These small sheep aren’t ideal for meat, but they are a hearty breed that makes a great option for hobby farms, starting out with a small flock to learn about sheep, or as pets in general.
They usually have a sweet temperament and are good ‘lawnmowers’, too. They are very hearty and native to warm climates.
Named for the Carribean island of St. Croix, these hair sheep are prized for their tolerance to heat. They are often used for breeding because they tend to have multiple births, are good mothers and can become pregnant as soon as one year of age.
They are also known to be resistant to hoof rot (read more about that here) and to have a gentle temperament.
The Royal White breed is one of the newest breeds of sheep to have been created in the United States. It was made from selective breeding in Texas, from combining St Croix and Dorper breeds.
This breed of sheep is raised primarily for meat, and is very hearty and disease-resistant. They have all the best traits of the St. Croix breed, as well as the body and lean muscle of Dorpers, making them ideal for meat production.
The Dorper breed of sheep hail from South Africa and they thrive in warm weather. They are ideal for meat, as they are muscular and fast-growing. They are a hybrid sheep, combining Dorsets and Blackhead Persians (Dor + Per being how they got their name).
Despite “Persian” in their name, these sheep are originally from Somalia. This breed thrives in hot climates. Neither males or females have horns, but they have a reputation for a bit of a temper. While most farmers raise them for meat, they have a very fatty tail which was considered a delicacy in some parts of Eastern Africa.
Raising sheep has been a great deal of fun, and I am very happy with the breeds I chose to raise. Hair sheep are more resistant to disease and tolerate hot weather better than their wool-coated brothers. If you’re looking to raise sheep in a tropical environment, consider one of the breeds mentioned above.