Sheep breeders the world over raise sheep for different purposes. Some do so for meat production, others for milk, and many do it for wool production. The Columbia sheep are bred specifically for their wool production capabilities.
That isn’t to say that the sheep don’t produce excellent meat. Sheep bred for wool or milk are also often bred for their meat production. The meat from the Columbia sheep is not only lean and soft but also quite succulent.
Despite its ability to produce delicious meat, Columbia sheep are specifically bred for fine wool. If you are in the market for an American breed of sheep that is excellent at producing wool, you might want to raise Columbia sheep.
Columbia Sheep Origin and History
According to the Columbia Sheep Breeders Association, the Columbia sheep is the first sheep breed that is truly all-American. It is considered to be the first American breed of sheep as it originated in the United States. It was developed in 1912 as a cross breed between Lincoln rams and Rambouillet ewes.
The idea was to come up with a sheep breed that would not only produce more pounds of fine wool and lambs but also be a breed that would replace crossbreeding across harsh range conditions in Western United States.
Even though the Columbia breed was designed for range conditions, it quickly gained widespread acceptance across North America, and Columbia ewes have been extensively used to produce crossbred market lambs.
Developed by the United States Department of Agriculture, Columbia sheep were designed as a true breeding type. The sheep came from Rambouillet ewes and long-wooled rams. The ewes produced by this crossbreed are typically quite large and produce a great deal of wool and lamb. The first crossbreed between the Lincoln-Rambouillet line became the source line for the Columbia breed because it was the most promising of all crosses.
The original Columbia breed was made in Wyoming (Laramie). In 1918, the Foundation of the Government Columbia flock was then moved to the Sheep Experiment Station based in Dubois, Idaho.
Appearance and Characteristics of the Columbia Sheep Breed
One of the main reasons the Columbia breed has become so popular in the United States is that they are quite large. They are known to produce a heavy, white fleece. Columbia ewes are so large that they are a popular breed for crossbreeding in most commercial western flocks.
The Columbia breed is generally white with white faces. You will typically find these sheep with wool all over their bodies. They closely resemble the Corriedale sheep but happen to be much larger. Unlike the Corriedale sheep, which have black muzzles and feet, the Columbia breed has pink noses and white hooves.
Apart from the fact that the Columbia sheep produce a great deal of fleece, they also happen to be quite a versatile and hardy breed. They are ideal for farmers who are looking to maximize their production of meat as well as wool.
As far as size is concerned, the Columbia breed is considered one of the largest sheep breeds in the US. The biggest sheep breeds are designed for wool production. They typically don’t have horns.
Columbia are a larger-framed sheep with mature weights ranging from 225 to 300 pounds. Their body weight is:
- Columbia ram: 250 – 350 pounds
- Columbia ewe: 160 – 240 pounds
Bred to produce large quantities of wool, these sheep yield medium wool and thick fleece of desirable length.
- Grease fleece weight: Ewe (12 – 16 lbs)
- Yield: 45-55%
Columbia sheep are known to be prolific breeders. The ewes have excellent mothering instincts and can take good care of their young. Regarding their estrous cycles, the ewes come into heat on average every 15 to 20 days, and the breeding cycles last for around 24 to 36 hours.
Like every other sheep breed, Columbia sheep have a gestation period between 149 days and around 155, with most gestation periods falling at the 152-day mark. In many cases, the ewes will have a lactation period of about 150 to 240 days, but most of them can be milked for about 180 days. While they are mostly bred for their heavy medium wool fleece, they produce good quality milk too.
Why Keep the Columbia Sheep Breed?
There are several good reasons breeders continue to favor the Columbia sheep breed.
Excellent wool production: This is the main reason this particular breed exists. If you are a farmer with a large farm and are looking for an improved breed ideal for wool production, then the Columbia sheep is the right choice for you.
- Adaptable: The best part is that this particular sheep can thrive in almost any climate.
- Dual-purpose sheep: They are not only good for wool production. Since they are large, these sheep also double as excellent meat producers. Their meat is known to be lean, succulent, and tender. This medium wool breed also produces quite a bit of milk and are known as prolific breeders, which means that with the right kind of farm management, you can easily increase the number in your flock.
- They are hardy: Even though these sheep were bred for the western ranges, they quickly became a favorite breed across the country. This is because they are hardy, resilient, and can survive in almost any weather.
What kind of temperament do Columbia sheep have?
Columbia sheep are quite even-keeled and docile. However, since they are large, farmers shouldn’t leave children unsupervised around them. Especially not during the mating season, when the rams can be quite aggressive.
How easy is it to care for Columbia sheep?
Columbia sheep are like goats in that they like foraging. Caring for them involves enclosing them in the ideal pasture and letting them graze their way through. Once they are done with one patch of land, rotating them is necessary unless you intend to bring them their feed.
Do Columbia sheep suffer from any diseases in particular?
Columbia sheep aren’t afflicted by any particular diseases. They are quite hardy and only need veterinary care for regular check-ups and deworming.
Raising Columbia Sheep
Few sheep breeds in the sheep industry are quite as versatile as the Columbia sheep. Ideal for wool production, these sheep are dual-purpose and can give you a good amount of milk and meat. They are easy to care for and can survive almost anywhere.
Other white-faced crossbreeds are Corriedale and Targhee. They are each considered medium-wool breeds and are very productive when they have an ample food supply. Their breeding season is more restricted than fine-wool sheep. In addition, their fleeces typically vary more in fineness of grade. When raising sheep, you’ll need to plan for shearing them. This keeps them cool. While many people hire professionals, you can also learn how to shear a sheep yourself.
Other wool sheep breeds to learn about are Ouessant sheep, Icelandic sheep, Rambouillets, and Merinos. Texel sheep produces wool that is used to make knitting wools and hosiery yarns. Hair sheep, which grow coarse hair instead of wool are Barbados sheep, Dorper, Royal White, and St. Croix.
If you are considering adding sheep to your backyard farm or homestead, consider why you want to raise them. If you are looking for a wool and a meat source, along with some milk, Columbia sheep are a multipurpose breed. It’s important to raise more than one sheep together.
In addition to being social animals, sheep derive security and protection when they are in a flock. At the same time, it’s important to be able to rotate pasture. Learn how many sheep per acre you can reasonably keep on your property to help ensure a healthy flock.
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