The American Blackbelly Hair Sheep

Believe it or not, but not all sheep produce wool. The American Blackbelly sheep is a brown and black “Hair” breed. They are not a naturally occurring breed and were developed in Texas by crossing Barbados Blackbelly, Rambouilette, and Mouflon sheep. As Barbados Blackbelly are a polled (non-horned) breed, the resulting sheep had poor quality horns, but when crossed back to the more primitive Mouflon sheep they exhibited such good quality horn growth that many adult rams are used in trophy hunting.

American Blackbelly sheep are also known as Barbado sheep (not to be confused with Barbados Blackbelly). While they are hair sheep, they will grow some wool in the winter which is shed in the spring and never needs sheering. Likewise their tails are usually not docked.

Uses:

As Trophy animals, the rams with mature horns in good condition, are very sought after.

As meat animals. They are said to be tastier, and hold their flavor well, even in more mature animals.

Pasture control. Sheep not only graze grass down, they also will eat some weeds.

Companion Animals. Sheep are often kept with goats, donkeys, or mini horses, as companion animals.

As pets, or for petting zoos. Because of their unique appearance they are desired as unusual animals.

They are sometimes used in cross breeding operations, but care must be given that the ewes are not too much smaller than the breed of the ram, or there will be a loss of both lambs and ewes at lambing time.

Appearance:

The color ranges from light tan to dark brown. There should be no solid white markings, although white hairs are allowed. Black should extend on the chin, throat, belly, and the legs, as well as the underside of the tail and ears. They may have some wool, but should be mostly “hair” which sheds in the spring to a thinner, shorter, coat. The tails are short or reach to the hocks.

The head, particularly on the rams, is noble with a roman nose. Horns begin to develop in the rams as early as a few weeks in age, and should curl in such a way they do not cut into the face or neck, or otherwise impair the animals quality of life or hinder its ability to feed. The ram grow a thick “mane of hair over their necks.  Ewes are usually scurred or hornless.

The average height on a male at the withers is 80 centimeters (32 inches) in the rams, and 65 centimeters (26 inches) in the ewes, with an average weight of 55 kg for rams, and 45 kg for ewes. They tend to have a “thinner” look than most wool breeds, and in fact their meat is less fatty, but well muscled. The lambs have a slower growth rate than wool breeds, but they are often more feed efficient.

Care and Behavior:

As one year olds it is preferred that they only have one lamb, but in subsequent years they may have one or two lambs, (sometimes even three) and the ewes are generally good mothers. Additionally American Blackbelly sheep can breed at any time of the year.

As with most hair sheep, they tend to have a high resistance to parasites. Because they can grow longer hair in the colder months, and shed in the summer, they are also quite tolerant of weather extremes (wool sheep suffer in the heat unless they get their wool sheared). Of course, like any animal, they should have shelter in the winter in the form of a barn.

In warm areas they are fine on grass, in areas with snow cover they will require hay and grain in the winter.

American Blackbelly sheep have a moderate herding instinct and despite their wild appearance, can be quite friendly if handled when young.

The horns on the rams make a good way of holding on to them, rather grabbing them by their legs which risks injury to their joints.

Overall hair sheep have many advantages to wool sheep particularly in areas where wool is of little economic value.