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What is a Hair Sheep?

Blackhead Persian sheep Photo: John McCullough

If you’ve ever seen sheep that look like goats, you might have seen a hair sheep…

Hair sheep generally refer to sheep that look as if they have no wool, sometimes they are called “naked sheep” but some sheep that just look like “normal” sheep are likewise hair sheep. All sheep have two types of fibers on them, hair and wool, the difference stems from the ratios of the fibers and how the wool behaves on the sheep. Wooled sheep have to be shorn as the fibers don’t shed or molt. Haired sheep however divided into two different categories, those that look like they don’t have wool, and those that are “shedding sheep.”


Hair sheep “without wool”

Barbados Blackbelly Photo: Elkins

Sheep that look like goats, with short slick hair and little to no visible wool are considered true “hair breeds.” The Barbados Blackbelly is an example of a tropical sheep that has no wool when in hot climates; when moved to northern colder climates the sheep grow a protective wool undercoat that shed as the hair normally does in the spring. 10% of the world’s sheep are hair sheep they are generally found in the tropics, where the lack of wool allows them to adapt to the weather.

Hair sheep “with wool”

There are breeds of hair sheep which are generally called “shedding sheep” that grow a mix of both hair and a wool undercoat every year. Dorper, Santa Inês, Virgin Island White breed (St. Croix) and California Red are all sheep that grow a blend of wool and hair that they lose or shed every spring.

Shetland Sheep Wool thins then breaks off Photo: Andrew Michaels

But there are other breeds that “shed”
There are Wooed sheep that don’t shed but still lose their fiber in the spring. For example the Icelandic and Shetland sheep have a natural wool break where the fibers weaken and break off the sheep acting like a shed, but without the follicles detaching from the body. These sheep never lose the fibers, they get natures version of a haircut.




One last note on sheep and goats…

Hair sheep are not a cross of goats and sheep. Sheep and goats have a different number of chromosomes; however, there are some example of hybridization, but more often than not, the offspring are stillborn, and infertile. The infamous “Geep” or sheep-goat chimera can only be created in a laboratory and will only breed a sheep or a goat not a hybrid.


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