(Editor’s note: This story is the final installment in a three-part series on sheep farming. Each story focuses on a different type of sheep production.)
BEALLSVILLE, Ohio – They’re hardy, intelligent and disease resistant. There’s no docking or shearing. They’re calm, adaptable and they can breed year-round.
It sounds like a sheep farmer’s dream come true, right?
Well, it’s not a dream.
Bill Hoag of Beallsville, Ohio, says a breed of sheep he created has those very traits, plus a long list of other desirable characteristics.
A cross between St. Croix and Dorpers, Hoag’s sheep are called Royal Whites. The animals are pure hair sheep bred to produce high-quality meat. Hoag’s goal in creating them was to bring an easy-care, high-performance animal to the U.S. sheep market.
Contribution. The project has been rewarding for Hoag, who said he’s received a lot of positive feedback from those who’ve bought Royal Whites.
“This is more like a contribution to the sheep industry, in my mind,” he said.
Royal Whites, which became an official breed in 2003, are the first new U.S. sheep breed in 20 years, according to Hoag.
With the growing number of part-time farmers in the country, it seemed logical to develop a low-maintenance animal that can still turn a profit.
“We’ve got to have animals that make it easier for people,” Hoag said.
The producer’s top priority is developing an animal that has superior meat. The second priority is breeding easy-care traits into the animals and third on the priority list is producing a hide that will make good leather.
Grazing. Hoag uses rotational grazing program for the 550 lambs and sheep on his Monroe County farm, supplementing their diet with hay in the winter and some occasional grain. The animals aren’t picky, Hoag said, and will eat the weeds right along with the grass.
An ideal market weight is 135-145 pounds and a study of the animals by Angelo State University in Texas put meat yields at 54 percent.
In addition to no shearing or docking tails, Royal Whites are vaccinated as little as necessary. Lambs can be spot wormed, but Hoag generally tries to avoid vaccinations. This encourages the animals to build their own natural resistance to parasites and so far, the concept is working.
Hoag also said there haven’t been any reported cases of scrapie in Royal Whites.
Leather. Another advantage of raising Royal Whites is the leather produced from their hides. The leather is very flexible and can be used to make anything from swimsuits to gloves to vehicle upholstery, according to Hoag.
In a 2003 report, the Leather Research Institute at Texas Tech University called leather made from Royal White hides “unique and of excellent quality.” At $4-8 per square foot, Hoag said it’s another way to add value to the flock.
Royal Whites are also very prolific. Ewes and rams can breed at any time of the year and a ewe can produce three lamb crops in 18 months, although three lamb crops in two years is a more ideal schedule in order to keep the females in good condition.
Twins are common and ewes often produce triplets after their first pregnancy. Hoag has seen several of his ewes raise quadruplets, while three have reared quintuplets. The breeding is always natural, with no artificial insemination or embryo transfers, and ewes lamb easily with few instances of prolapse or pulling.
His goal is always a 185 percent lamb crop, although his all-time high was 235 percent.
Hoag said he doesn’t know of any sheep that can out-produce a Royal White ewe in terms of lambs and edible meat produced over a lifetime.
Growth. With so many aspects of production, it can be hard to put a finger on exactly what makes the breed successful, but Hoag said there’s no single aspect that rises to the top.
“It’s not one certain thing,” he said. “It’s all the little things.”
In order to help the breed grow, Hoag makes it a point to market Royal Whites to young producers.
“I’m looking for people that are going to be in this for 10 years, 20 years,” Hoag said.
How it started. Today, Hoag estimates there are 1,500 registered Royal Whites in the U.S. and another 1,000 that could be registered. But those numbers are just a snapshot of how far the breed has come – Hoag has produced more than 10,000 lambs in his pursuit of an ideal Royal White.
“You need lots of lambs, lots of numbers to make this work,” he said.
Hoag began his sheep career in 1995 in Utah with a small flock of St. Croix, a tropical breed. He wanted to increase the meat yield from the animals, but retain their pure hair and genetics. After doing some research, he bred the St. Croix ewes to a Dorper ram, a breed known for thriving in arid conditions.
The results looked promising.
Hoag moved to Texas where he had the opportunity to expand his flock and sell some of the offspring. He called the offspring Dorpcroix, which became the prototype for Royal Whites.
Hoag moved to Ohio in 2006, hoping the state’s good rainfall and grazing ground would benefit his flock. So far, he says the sheep are flourishing in the Buckeye State.
“I think this little area in Ohio is perfect to run them,” said Hoag, a native of Pittsburgh.
Sales. Right now, most of Hoag’s sheep are sold as breeding stock. Rams typically sell for $1,000 each, while ewes bring $450-650.
Hoag has sold Royal Whites from Florida to Ontario and the animals have adapted to the various climates, he said. That adaptability will play an important role in the growth of the breed, as Hoag has had inquiries from India, China and the Dominican Republic.
Since becoming recognized as a breed, Royal Whites have done well in the show ring, as well as in the pasture. In 2005, the Houston Livestock Show was the first major show to have class for Royal Whites. A Royal White ewe went home with the supreme champion ewe banner from that show.
While Hoag is proud of what he’s accomplished with his sheep, he knows there’s no such thing as a perfect animal.
And the advice he lives by is good for any producer to remember.
“No sheep is perfect,” he said, “but you try and do the best you can.”
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
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