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Black and Colored Sheep
by Susan Schoenian
White Wool
Most modern domesticated sheep grow white wool.
This is because white wool is more desirable in the
commercial market because it can be dyed any
color. However, sheep with white wool may have
different color faces and legs.
Crossbred Ewes in Virginia
Colored Sheep
On the other hand, hand spinners, weavers,
and other wool craftsmen often prefer to work
with "natural colored" wool. Wool is produced
in many beautiful colors: black, gray, silver,
moorit, brown, and red.
Naturally Colored Sheep
It's All In the Genes
It is not uncommon for black or colored lambs
to appear in a white flock. However, in order
for this to happen, both of the lamb's parents
must be carrying a gene for color.
Katahdin Ewe and Lambs
Fleece Inheritance
The inheritance of fleece or coat color in sheep is
quite complicated. Different genes control what
color the fleece will be, what pattern it will be, and
whether the fleece will be spotted.
Black and White Merinos
Changing Colors
The lambs of some breeds are born black and their
fleeces will change to white or gray as they get
Shropshire lambs
Spotted Fleeces
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, while the black wool grows out of
black skin. The Jacob's spotted fleece is
referenced in the Bible. Prior to the 20th
century, Jacob sheep were referred to as
"piebald" sheep.
Jacob Ewe
Photo courtesy of
American Jacob Sheep Registry
Get Your Markers In
In the "Old West" a few colored sheep roamed
the ranges. These animals were used as
"markers", one for every 100 range sheep. The
old timers counted the sheep and said, "once
your markers are in, your flock is in".
Black Katahdin Ewe
New Words
Gene - the fundamental physical and functional unit of heredity.
Inheritance - attributes acquired via biological heredity from the parents.
Moorit - brown; comes from the Icelandic word "moorut" meaning "as red as the moors."
Piebald - English term for body color of white with black patches.
© Copyright 2005.