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15 Best Sheep Breeds for Meat

Sherry grew up watching her uncle raise turtles, fish, goats, and chickens in his backyard. She brought home a goat last year.

The Suffolk is a popular sheep breed for meat.

The Suffolk is a popular sheep breed for meat.

Which Sheep Breeds Produce the Best Meat?

Each meat breed has traits that make it an ideal choice for certain shepherds. Some are large and meaty while others produce particularly tasty fare. While the meat of some sheep does not lose taste with age, others grow pretty fast, saving you time and money. The ideal breed for you will depend on the goals you have for your homestead or farm.

Farmers generally like to keep exotic breeds for crossbreeding. The best practice is to raise pure-bred rams and crossbreed ewes to start new farms. Crossbred lambs grow faster than purebred lambs, which is why sheep raisers choose to maintain pure-bred sheep separately for breeding purposes.

1. Suffolk

The Suffolk is a popular breed for meat, milk and kids participating in 4-H and other youth shows.

  • These sheep are calm, docile and differ in appearance compared to most other sheep. They have a black face, ears, and legs that are all free of wool.
  • Suffolk has an excellent feed-conversion characteristic and is one of the fastest growth rates of any sheep breed.
  • Meat is of a good texture, taste, distinctive flavour, decent moisture, and has less fat than many other breeds.

Ewes give birth to three lambs per year and the lambs grow fast. Suffolk can be used as a terminal breed with other breeds to produce heavier lambs more quickly for marketing at around three months of age or a typical weight of 100 pounds. Because you can market lamb at an early age, there is less medical expenditure, less feeding and less work.

The only downside to Suffolk would be that they do well on a really good pasture but generally benefit from supplementation. But, supplementation is a must if pastures are not top-notch. Some raisers of Suffolk complain that they eat a lot but I believe it is normal considering the growth rate of the lambs.

Cheviot sheep make excellent homestead flock.

Cheviot sheep make excellent homestead flock.

2. Cheviot

The Cheviot breed started as a mountain breed, native to the Cheviot Hills between Scotland and England. These sheep are extremely hardy and can withstand harsh winters. They have a small head covered with fine, white hair that also covers their legs. Fleece is dense and firm with no wool on face or legs.

For two reasons, these sheep are ideal for farming and make the top of this list:

  1. Although they are short, the lambs are hardy and have good quality meat. Ewes have strong mothering instincts and are known for problem-free lambing.
  2. Cheviots do well on the poor quality pasture and may need little or no supplementation.
Chrollais - Holy Sheep! The favourite of Parisian chefs.

Chrollais - Holy Sheep! The favourite of Parisian chefs.

3. Charollais

The Charollais is one of the latest recognized domestic sheep breeds. It has its origins in the Burgundy region of France. These sheep are medium to large-sized, well-muscled with pink-grey faces and legs and fine to medium wool covering the body. They are generally used as a terminal sire to increase the muscling and growth rate of lambs.

They are heavily muscled and produce lean carcasses, which is ideal for the meat trade. Fast growth, lean quality meat, high yield, easy lambing and quality carcass make Charollais desirable among sheep farmers. However, these sheep are poor foragers. A good pasture is must for these sheep, who may need supplementation.

Katahdin Sheep

Katahdin Sheep

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4. Katahdin

The Katahdin breed of sheep first originated in Maine, named after the mountain Katahdin. They are hardy with a high fertility rate and adaptability. These sheep fall under the category of some of the low maintenance breeds, needing minimal care and capable of thriving on pasture alone.

Katahdins shed every year and thus do not need shearing.

The lambs take a longer time to reach market weight but produce lean, mild-tasting and meaty carcasses nonetheless.

Icelandic sheep are well known internationally for their wool.

Icelandic sheep are well known internationally for their wool.

5. Icelandic Sheep

Icelandic sheep were first brought to Iceland by Viking settlers more than 9000 years ago. It is known to be one of the purest breeds in the world today because it has not been crossbred with other imported sheep breeds. The meat of an Icelandic sheep is appreciated throughout the world for its organic purity and mild flavour.

These are another low maintenance breed of sheep that can bring great profits. The sheep do well even on poor pasture or range with little or no supplementation. The meat of Icelandic lambs is tender and has a fine texture. Lambs reach marketing weight at four to five months.

Tunis sheep are two types: Tunis Barbarin raised for meat and American Tunis raised for meat and wool.

Tunis sheep are two types: Tunis Barbarin raised for meat and American Tunis raised for meat and wool.

6. Tunis Barbari

Tunis is thought to have originated nearly 3000 years ago in Tunisia. These are one of those fat-tailed sheep that are loved by the regular lamb eaters. Tunis are excellent foragers and grazers. They usually do not need additional supplementation and are quite profitable.

Although Tunis is a dual-purpose breed, nowadays they are being raised for market meat production. The sheep are quite hardy and able to thrive in a hot and dry climate.

7. Blackbelly (American and Barbados)

The Barbados Blackbelly is a dark-haired sheep breed that originated from Barbados in the West Indies. American Blackbellly on the other hand was derived by crossing the naturally polled Barbados with mouflon sheep, Dorsets and Merinos.

Both breeds are pretty similar and both have small carcasses. What they lack in size, they make up in quality and taste of meat. Unlike the other sheep breeds in this list, Blackbelly sheep are not usually common among farmers who market sheep meat.

Blackbellies exhibit great resistant to internal parasites and heat stress. These sheep are also quite easy-going about pasture and feed needs. The ewes give birth twice a year and have between 1.5 to 2.3 lambs per lambing.

Black Welsh mountain sheep

Black Welsh mountain sheep

8. Welsh Mountain Sheep

The Welsh Mountain is a small and extremely hardy breed that originated in South Wales. The ewes are desirable for easy lambing, high fertility, and good milk production.

These sheep have good longevity; they are active and thus hard to keep fenced.

The Welsh sheep produce remarkable quality meat and fibre, flavorful with a high meat-to-bone ratio.

These sheep are known for their fine, soft, black fibre.

9. Shropshire

The exact origins of Shropshire Down are unknown but believed to be a result of improvement of indigenous sheep of Staffordshire and Shropshire border areas in England.

It is a medium-sized, long-lived sheep typically popular for meat and wool. Meat from Shropshire is succulent, tender and full of flavour.

Shropshire sheep need abundant feed, which is a common complaint sheep raisers have about the breed.

10. Texel

Texels are a hardy breed that can adapt many climate conditions. They do well as a foraging breed, although the percentage of lambing twins and triplets in farm flocks is higher.

Texels are middle-sized and have a high muscle-to-bone ratio. Their meat is lean, delicate, tasty and quite a hit among chefs.

The sheep produce a white fleece of medium wool. There is no wool on face or legs, and the nose is distinctively black.

11. Dorset Horn

Dorset Horn is a British breed that is currently at risk in many countries. Although its origins are unknown, it is thought that the Dorset Horn was developed by crossbreeding Merinos with native, horned Welsh sheep. The spiral horns of the rams make the breed straight away recognizable.

The meat is consistent, succulent, very mild and tender tasting. It is succulent and has a muttony sheep taste. The sheep do well on good pasture and often do not need extra supplementation.

The Dorset ewes give birth to three lambs a year, which is appealing for the farmers who are interested in marketing lambs for meat. They make excellent foragers and would rarely need supplementation.

12. Hampshire Down

The Hampshire is a heritage breed in true sense. It is a result of an amalgation of several heritage breeds of British origin, bred for many centuries. Hampshires have large heads.

Although they are more popular for wool, meat is another cherished product from them. Meat from Hampshires is lean yet succulent, fragrant and sweet tasting.

Hampshires tend to be poor foragers and will need good quality pasture or additional supplementation to cater to their feed needs.

13. Rambouillet

The Rambouillet is a French version of the Merino breed. Hardy and large, they are a dual-purpose breed, having good carcass quality and wool production.

These lambs give remarkable meat yield in boneless, trimmed meat cuts.

The fleece of the Rambouillet is comparable to that of a Merino's except with lesser shrinks.

Rambouillets feed on all types of fodders and might not need supplementation.

A white-headed Dorper sheep

A white-headed Dorper sheep

14. Dorper

The Dorper was bred in South Africa by crossing Blackhead Persian sheep with Dorset Horns. They have a solid white body with a black head, but there are also white or red-headed strains. The meat of a Dorper is tender and great tasting.

These sheep are stout and docile with excellent breeding ability. The maternal instinct of ewes is substantial with excellent milk production that enables them to raise fast-growing healthy lambs. Lambs reach market age by four to five months.

The Dorper sheep put on wool in cold climates and shed in warm weather. This capability of sheep is helpful for shepherds looking to avoid shearing for meat production. Low parasite resistance, high feed needs and intolerance to cold are the three main disadvantages of Dorpers.

15. Romney

Romney, known by the name given to the original version Romney Marsh, is an English breed of sheep. They are calm, docile and low maintenance. Additionally, they are comfortable living in large flocks.

Romneys can be called dual-purpose sheep for their meat quality and long, lustrous wool. The meat is of good quality and has a delicate taste even in older lambs; the fleece is excellent for hand-spinning.

The Romney sheep do well on pasture alone. They are particularly suited for the New Zealand climate and do not do well in hot or dry climate conditions.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Sherry Haynes


Liz Westwood from UK on December 03, 2020:

We have friends who have sheep on their farm. After reading your informative and well-illustrated article I shall be taking a closer look next time I visit to see what breed they are.

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