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  • Welcome to Sheep 101. The purpose of Sheep 101 is to teach 4-H and FFA members, students, teachers, beginning shepherds, and the general public about sheep, their products, how they are raised, and their contributions to society. The site uses simple language and pictures to illustrate the various topics. To begin learning about sheep, click on a link in the menu bar or choose a topic from the drop down menu above.

  • About the author. The author of Sheep 101 is Susan Schoenian, Sheep & Goat Specialist at the University of Maryland's Western Maryland Research & Education Center. Susan has been with University of Maryland Extension since 1988. She raises Katahdin sheep on her small farm, called The Baalands, in Clear Spring, Maryland. Susan has B.S. and M.S. degrees in Animal Science degrees from Virginia Tech and Montana State University, respectively.

  • Susan Schoenian
    Sheep & Goat Specialist
    W. MD Research & Education Center
    University of Maryland Extension - (301) 432-2767 x343

Black Merinos

Portland lambs
Photo courtesy of Beer Mill Farm

Jacob ewe
Jacob ewe
Photo courtesy of American Jacob Sheep Registry

    Baa Baa Black Sheep

  • White wool
    Most modern domesticated sheep grow white wool. This is because white wool is more desirable in the commercial market place because it can be dyed any color. However, sheep with white wool may have different color faces and legs.

  • Natural-colored wool
    Handspinners, weavers, and other wool craftsmen often prefer "natural colored" wool. Wool is naturally produced in many beautiful colors: black, gray, silver, brown, red, and moorit. Some sheep have spotted fleeces..

  • Fleece inheritance
    It's not uncommon for black or colored lambs to be born in a white flock to white parents. However, in order for this to happen, both of the lamb's parents must be carrying a gene for color.

    The inheritance of fleece or coat color can be quite complicated. Different genes control what color the fleece will be, what pattern it will be, and whether the fleece will be solid or spotted.

  • Color change
    The lambs of some breeds are born black or red and their fleeces lighten as they get older.

  • Spotted sheep
    One of the most uniquely-colored breeds is the Jacob. The Jacob's fleece is described as white with black spots. The white wool grows out of white skin. The black wool growns out of black skin. The Jacob's spotted fleece is mentioned in the Bible. Prior to the 20th century, Jacob sheep were referred to as "Piebald" sheep.

  • Get your markers in
    In the Old West, a few black sheep wandered the range. These colored animals were used as markers, one for every hundred sheep. The old timers counted the sheep and said, "Once your markers are in, your flock is in."