Dorset Horn Sheep: Remarkable Breed with Unique Characteristics

Dorset Horn Sheep featured image

By Lucienne Brown

Dorset Horn sheep were bred and developed in England. This is the only breed of English origin that can breed out of season. Easily identified by the all-white bodies, legs, and faces, the ewes carry a set of horns that are crescent-shaped away from the face. The rams have a spiral set of horns that spiral down and are parallel to the slope of the nose. Dorset Horn’s fleece is considered a down type fiber, growing a staple length of 3-5 inches over a year with a mature ewe’s fleece ranging in weight from 5-8lbs. 

Dorset Horn Characteristics

Dorset Horn are white sheep with minimal wool on the face and legs. Their most defining characteristic is the horns on both the ewes and the rams. They are medium-sized sheep, with ewes averaging 175 pounds and rams weighing 200-250 pounds. The sheep are white. However, you may find a black mark on the eyelid, nose, or hoof of the sheep. This is widely received as remnants of the Merino influence in the sheep when they were being developed.

Different types

The Continental Dorset Club refers to two types of Dorset: Horn and Polled. However, when looking for Dorset Horn stock, one may find shepherds referring to “Old Style Dorsets” and “Show Horn Dorsets.” The Show Style refers to taller, larger sheep that are competing in show rings and bred for what the judges deem quality. The “Old Style Dorset” refers to low, wide Horned Dorsets that resemble the breed’s original standard. The horns are more traditionally placed, and the sheep are not as leggy as the “Show Style.” Both are the same breed and have their place on the farm, it just depends on that specific farm’s goals.

Unique features

Horns: Both ewes and rams have horns. Ewes’ horns resemble a crescent moon shape, which traditionally comes out wide away from the face. Rams’ horns traditionally spiraled forwards, going parallel to the nose and blocking the ram’s eyesight. Breeders have been selecting rams for wider horn sets that open the face up, while other breeders have been selecting rams for the traditional horn set that will follow the old-style horn set while also keeping space away from the face to prevent the need to cut off the horns halfway down.

three Dorset Horn Sheep

Out-of-Season Breeding

As the only English breed able to breed out of season, horned Dorsets, and later polled Dorsets, were popular because of their ability to lamb any time of year. The majority of sheep breeds ovulate in the fall, limiting the time of year when shepherds lamb to the late winter and early spring. The Dorset Horn ewes and rams are able to breed and lamb at any time of year.


Horned Dorset meat has a mild flavor that makes a succulent dish without an overpowering sheep flavor. 


Horned Dorsets are not a common milk breed; however, they have large udders. Their ability to breed out of season naturally would be a desired trait for a dairy operation. They are also great for cross-breeding, with their offspring being polled.

Average weight of Dorset Horn sheep

Mature ewes at 3 years of age is about 175 pounds with mature rams reaching 200-250 pounds by 2 years.

Difference between males and females

The main difference between the ewes and rams is the horns. The rams’ horns are thick and spiral, while the ewes’ horns are crescent-shaped and thinner.

Breed Standard

The sheep are all white, and minimal black dots are accepted on the eyelids, lips, and hooves. Horns should not be growing into the face or neck.

Adult appearance vs babies

When young, the ram lambs are already born with “nubs” on the top of their head. Ewe lambs have no visible nubs where their horns grow but will start a few days after birth.

What is the temperament of a Dorset Horn?

Dorset Horn Sheep with other farm animals in pasture


Docile, calm, often referred to as “heavy,” which is the opposite of flighty. They are not tight-flocking sheep. 

Noise Levels

If they are accustomed to eating grain, the sheep will be moderately noisy when the farmer is in the barn or outside. If not feeding grain, they are a quiet breed that does not vocalize frequently.

Get Along with Humans and Other Animals?

Well-socialized sheep are friendly with humans. Even sheep that are not interacting with humans every day will come up and investigate a quiet human.

Rams should never be thought of as friendly, as they are always unpredictable.

Mothering ability

Horned Dorsets are phenomenal mothers, they are diligent at raising their lambs, and most will stand their ground and stomp at anyone approaching the lambs. They will not charge an adult but may knock over a child if they get too close to a lamb that is under 24 hours old.

Caring for Dorset Horn

Dorset Horn Sheep Ewe and her lamb


Free-choice good-quality hay is ideal for maintenance. Second-cut hay, grain, and high-quality pasture for lactating ewes, raising meat lambs, and before introducing a ram for breeding. If opting to breed more than once every 12 months, forage and grain intake will need to increase to ensure the ewe stays at a healthy body condition score as she is being “worked” heavily.

Always provide water. Ewes will increase water intake when lactating.

Free-choice sheep minerals and sea kelp are essential to all sheep on the farm.

Check all grains and minerals for added copper, as sheep are susceptible to copper poisoning.

Optimal Environment

Check your state for livestock housing laws. Sheep should be provided shade in the summer. Dry, draft-free housing is essential for winter to keep sheep healthy. Allowing sheep access to pasture keeps them healthy. Horned Dorsets do well in most environments with adequate shelter, feed, and water. 

Predator concerns

Large predators such as coyotes, bears, wolves, and domestic dogs will have the ability to take down sheep. Proper housing, fencing, livestock guardians, and other predator-proofing should keep your sheep safe.

Health Concerns

One of the biggest health concerns to sheep is barber pole worms (haemonchus contortus). Although most parasites are species-specific, this one is shared with goats, so sharing pasture with goats can increase their susceptibility. Current information about parasite management in sheep and goats can be found here.


Horned Dorsets can live into their teens naturally. Ewes are culled around 12-14 years when they stop producing quality wool, and the ewes cannot maintain weight through lambing and lactation. Rams are replaced more frequently to avoid inbreeding.


A common practice is to saw off the horns halfway around the first spiral of the rams to avoid them from growing into the face and to make shearing the face wool easier. Similar to the quick of a nail, the “live” part of the horn is only in the first ⅓ of the horn. Below this area, the horn has no nerve endings or bloody supply, so sawing off the horn at the appropriate place will not hurt or harm the rams. The horn should not be cut where it feels warm to the touch because that is where there is blood supply.

Sheep are flock animals and should be in a group of at least 3 sheep. For the healthiest sheep dynamics, sheep should be kept in groups of 5 or more. This allows sheep to behave in a more flock-like way.

Selling Products from Dorset Horn

Dorset Horn Sheep Wool
  • Wool Products
  • Meat
  • Pelts
  • Skulls

Buying or Selling Pets or Breeding Stock

The Continental Dorset Club has 84 registered breeders of Dorset Horns across 26 states, while the Livestock Conservancy has 22 breeders that are listed in the breed directories. In the Northeast, the genetic pool is closely related. There are breeders importing semen from England who are working on diversifying genetics on the west coast.

Buying quality stock that resembles the old-style Horned Dorset is becoming more popular.  

Pros and Cons of Raising or Owning Dorset Horn


  • Breed/lamb any time of year
  • Amazing dual-purpose ability for meat and wool
  • Incredible mothers and easy lambers
  • Docile and calm sheep
  • Grazers and browsers – will eat grasses and leaves off wood/stemmy brush such as glossy buckthorn, bittersweet, and multiflora rose.


  • Horns can get caught in belt loops, fencing, or other areas
  • Horns require larger feed troughs for sheep to have space for their heads and customized feed equipment since most sheep equipment is made for polled sheep.
  • Increased feed if breeding twice in 12 months, with high-quality hay, forage, and grain.

Conservation Status and Price

This breed is listed as threatened by the Livestock Conservancy. Finding breeding stock across the north in the US is not difficult depending on the “style” of Horned Dorset you are looking to acquire. Quality breeding stock is roughly $500 with papers, but prices vary based on the age and genetics of the sheep across the US. When purchasing livestock of any kind, the saying “You get what you pay for” holds true.

Lucienne Brown has been raising old-style Dorset Horn sheep on Three Creeks Farm in New Hampshire since 2016. You can learn more on their website and their Facebook page.

Are you interested in or currently raising sheep? Check out Thrifty Homesteader’s most useful posts about sheep to learn more!

Or would you like to learn more about different sheep breeds? Discover the Shetland Sheep: The Ideal Breed for Your Homestead or the American Karakul Sheep: A Unique Heritage Breed

Dorset Horn Sheep

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