Native Sheep Breeds of America

The Targhee

The United States has a number of self-made livestock breeds and the Targhee sheep is one of them. Having been developed in 1926 it is one of the more recent breeds to have become established. The name is taken from the Targhee National Forest. The Forest itself is named for a Bannock Indian chief who frequented the region during the 1860s.

The Targhee is found mostly in Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota. It is a dual purpose sheep breed  which yields heavy fleeces but still has good quality meat.

Rambouillet ramCredit: Wikimedia - Author Cgoodwin

Three breeds went into the mix to create the Targhee. The Rambouillet, Columbia and Corriedale are all represented. The Columbia is itself a cross between Lincoln rams and Rambouillet ewes. The three breeds were quite popular but some farmers were seeking a sheep with three quarters fine wool and a quarter long wool. They achieved this ambition with the Targhee.

Like the Columbia, the Targhee was developed at the US Sheep Experiment Station in Dubois, Idaho. The flocks graze in the Targhee National Forest during the summer. Apart from the Experiment Station, individual breeders were also trying to create a breed along similar lines.


Corriedale SheepCredit: Wikimedia

Corriedale lambs

Stringent culling and rigorous selection saw the variations in type slowly recede with each generation. Later the genetic base of the breed was widened but always with the 'Targhee type' firmly in mind. Numbers steadily grew.

The first call for sheep to be inspected with a view to registration took place in 1952. Montana State University were first on the register and had 34 sheep classified. Flock books were closed in 1966. Since that time, only the offspring of registered parents are eligible for registration.

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The Targhee is very nearly as large as the Columbia with rams weighing in at 200 to 300 pounds and ewes ranging from 140 to 200 pounds. Ideally the Targhee is deep-bodied and broad. The topline is level and the body deep and free of wrinkles. The legs and rump are muscular and well developed. Ewe fleeces average 10 to 14 pound with a staple length of 3 to 5 inches. Fleeces are dense and have an attractive character.

The Targhee is polled with a bold, strong head. The face is white and free of wool. There is no black or brown colour in the fleece although occasionally small pigmented spots occur on the face, ears and lower legs. The legs have good bone with strong, straight pasterns. Ewes have good maternal instincts and plenty of milk, raising a high percentage of twins under range conditions. At weaning, lambs are solid and in good condition.

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From its establishment in 1951, the Targhee Sheep Association has concentrated its efforts in developing profitable sheep raised on the range with the minimum of management and maintenance. Over 2,000 sheep are now registered annually with the Association. The Targhee is now found through most of the States and into Canada.

It is a sturdy, robust sheep producing high quality lambs and heavy fleeces. There is rarely any need for expensive supplements or refinements.