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Comparison of Sheep Breeds

Sheep are one of the most ancient of recorded domestic animals and have been raised for their fiber for thousands of years. Just how long people have been harvesting wool, spinning yarn and knitting with it, is hard to say. But it certainly dates back a long time.


There are hundreds of different breeds of sheep, raised for wool and meat production, all over the world. The largest percentage of sheep breeds originate in Northern Europe and especially the UK.

Many sheep can be traced back to their early domesticated homes by their names. Named for areas they once occupied, breeds like the Rambouillet and  North Ronaldsy are easily identifiable. Other breeds acquired their names for their physical appearance and attributes. Selective breeding and cross-breeding has allowed modern sheep farmers to raise sheep with ideal wools for commercial yarn production.

Though instinctually you know that a yarn labelled 'wool' came from a sheep, have you ever picked up a ball of wool yarn and wondered what kind of sheep it came from, what the sheep was called, or what it looked like?

Did you picture it as a plump, woolly critter, like the Poll Merino at the top?

Or perhaps as a short haired, bald face sheep, like the Clun Forest (middle).

Or you may have even imagined a unique four-horned sheep. Yes, they do exist....consider the Manx Loaghtan (lower).

In most cases the exact breed of sheep that produced the yarn in your stash is going to remain a mystery. Few yarns divulge the exact breed or combination of breeds that they contain. But that doesn't mean that you can't study the fascinating world of woolly sheep. The gallery below shows a small sampling of the over 1400 breeds of sheep raised worldwide. Hover over each image for a brief description of it's characteristics.

Poll merino ram
Clun Forest sheep
Four-horned Manx Loaghtan rams

All images courtesy of WikiMedia Commons

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