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Friday, October 07, 2011
@ AnimalsMammalsDorset Horn Sheep

There are more than 200 breeds of domestic sheep currently in existence. All of these were developed from the wild sheep of Europe and Asia. Although their exact ancestry is unclear, it is thought that domestic sheep descended primarily from two wild stocks; the Moufflons, Ovis musimon and Ovis orientalis, and the Asiatic Urial, Ovis vignei.

The Dorset Horn Sheep is white with a tan-colored face. It is a large breed with rams (males) averaging around 210 to 250 pounds and the ewes (females) ranging from 140 to 180 pounds. The horns are long, curving downward in a circular pattern and then upwards, creating almost a full circle. Polled (hornless) strains of the Dorset Horn Sheep were developed by North Carolina State University in the early 1950s and these have gradually been replacing the horned varieties.

The Dorset Horn Sheep has the ability to breed year-round, unlike most other varieties of sheep which breed only once a year. They may produce lambs as often as twice a year. Recent breeding selections have tended to concentrate on early lambing, causing some flocks of the Dorset Horn to no longer possess genetic ability to breed throughout the year. Dorset Horn Sheep can produce five to nine pounds of wool each year. This wool can be clipped and the fiber used to produce clothing. They have also been raised for meat production, mainly to supply large cities in the eastern United States. These sheep, like many other domestic varieties of animals, are totally dependent on humans. They are completely unable to survive on their own in the wild.

Sheep were among the first animals to be domesticated by man approximately 8,000 years ago. Sheep were first raised for their skins and meat, but as humans learned to spin and weave, sheep became valuable for their wool as well. The behavior as well as the appearance of domestic sheep have been altered by centuries of selected breeding for desirable traits. The Dorset Horn Sheep is native to southern England and was first imported into this country in 1885. They originated from Spanish sheep being crossed with the native English stock during the 16th century.

The Dorset Horn Sheep is considered a “minor” breed. Animals with this classification exist in small numbers. Some of these minor breeds are in danger of extinction, just like many wild animals. Many of these breeds were actually the predominate breeds of livestock during the last century and played a major role in the development of our North American agriculture. As modern agricultural practices shifted to higher production, many of the old breeds were replaced by specialized breeds better suited for this goal. As modern agricultural practices continue changing, the valuable qualities and genetic diversity of the old breeds may once again be useful. An organization known as the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (www.albc-usa.org) was formed to help save these rare breeds of livestock. There are currently close to 80 breeds of livestock which are considered to be endangered with various classifications within this listing. The Dorset Horn Sheep’s official status is listed as “watch”, meaning there are fewer than 2500 annual registrations in the U.S.A., less than 10,000 globally. There is currently concern that selection pressures could lead to the loss of valuable Dorset Horn traits such as year-round breeding.

The Nature Center currently has one Dorset Horn sheep, a ewe (female) named Bailey. She lives with the other sheep on our Educational Farm, all of them spending their days in the petting area and coming into the barn at night to sleep. Their diet consists of a combination of high quality hay and sweet feed (a commercial mixture of grains, molasses, and other ingredients), along with the standard salt block which they lick to get vitamins and other nutrients, and occasional fruit and vegetable treats.


~ WNC Nature Center ~ 75 Gashes Creek Road ~ Asheville ~ NC 28805 ~
Phone (828) 298-5600


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