Breed Profile: Get To Know Harlequin Sheep

A recent addition to the miniature sheep world, the versatile and easy-to-handle Harlequin is a perfect animal for small and hobby farms.

by Hobby Farms HQ

Kathleen Sterling, owner of Black Sheep Farm East in Virginia, developed Harlequin Sheep about 40 years ago. A variety of breeds were used to develop the Harlequin, including:

  • Karakul
  • Tunis
  • Corriedale
  • Lincoln
  • Border Leicester
  • Romney
  • Montadale
  • Southdown 

Breeders continue to improve on the size and look in accordance with Sterling’s vision. Farms across the United States and Canada produce healthy, hardy lambs yearly toward the achievement of 500 American Purebred Harlequin sheep.

Once the registry reaches that number, the breed will close to outcrossing with registered Babydoll Southdown Sheep. And it’ll continue improving the breed through the current seven generations. 

Read more: Check out these important tips for protecting your sheep from predators.

Tremendous Opportunity

As of 2020, there were only 16 American Purebred sheep in the registry. This represents a tremendous growth opportunity for breeders to get in early as Harlequins take a prominent role in the miniature sheep world.

Considered a miniature sheep, with shoulder heights at or less than 23 inches, Harley weights range from 80 to 120 pounds for ewes. Rams weigh in at 90 to 150 at maturity.

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Their compact size, lower weights and lack of horns (naturally polled) make them easy to handle.

Read more: Want to spin wool from your sheep? Here’s an overview of what to do.

A Fine Fiber Sheep

Known for its fine, medium-staple length wool, Harlequin fiber is similar to Babydoll Southdown fiber. Babydoll/Harlequin crosses, in fact, represent the first outcrossing to increase bloodlines. These animals often sport a rich, dark, brown fleece at birth, sometimes with a white spot on the head or chest.

When processing a tricolor fleece, you’ll get a beautiful gray roving. The fleece of most mature Harlequins can be separated into off white, brown, gray and tan to produce roving in those colors individually.

Despite relative rarity, Harlequins are affordable. Considering Harlequins to obtain or maintain an agricultural exemption on your land (or purchasing for your kids or grandkids as a 4-H or FFA project)? You’ll find they are truly worthy, due to their versatility.

To learn more, visit the Harlequin Sheep Society website. 

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2021 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.

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