Panama sheep out in winter

Panama Sheep Breed: Information, Behavior, and Care

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The Panama and Columbia sheep are the only two breeds that are native to the United States. Panama sheep originated in Idaho in the early 20th century when private breeders crossed Rambouillet rams and Lincoln ewes. After five years of crossbreeding, the offspring mated to create the Panama sheep breed.

Like other dual-purpose sheep, Panamas are hardy and adaptable to different climates. They are hornless and look like Columbia sheep, but their bodies are smaller.

Regarding production, these sheep yield a dense, medium-grade fleece with a long staple length and high spinning count.

Quick Facts about the Panama Sheep Breed

Country of origin United States of America
Breed name Panama
Breed purpose Meat, wool
Mature body weight
  • Ram – 190 to 260 lbs.
  • Ewe – 150 to 210 lbs.
Average fiber diameter 27.5 microns
Grease fleece weight 12 to 16 lbs.
Fleece staple length 3 to 5 inches
Care level Low
Temperature All climates
Temperament Docile

History of the Panama Sheep Breed

James Laidlaw created the Panama sheep breed in 1912. James was an immigrant from Scotland who arrived as a shepherd in 1892.

In 1894, he ventured into the range sheep business by forming a partnership to take over a flock in the Raft River country. At the time, most farmers kept sheep for milk production.

James crossed Lincoln and Cotsswald sheep with Rambouillet to obtain ewes that would produce large quantities of milk.

He later mated the resulting ewe with a Shropshire ram, creating a desirable milk-fat lamb. The lamb was more productive than purebred Merino and Rambouillet ewes.

The first research results encouraged James and the United States Department of Agriculture to develop an adaptable breed that would eradicate the need for crossbreeding. The objective was to establish a large, hardy breed that produces high-quality meat and wool in large quantities.

James chose Rambouillet and Lincoln as the first pair of breeds earmarked for crossing. The first crossbreeding phase happened in Muldoon, Idaho, in spring 1912.

Three years later, James Laidlaw sent one ram, one ewe, and one lamb to the Panama Exposition in San Francisco, California. The warm reception afforded to the animals at the fair convinced attendees that ‘Panama’ would be the right name for the breed.

Panama sheep breed

Characteristics of the Panama Sheep Breed

Panamas are one of the larger sheep breeds with a white body. Both rams and ewes are hornless, with a dense medium-grade fleece covering their bodies.

Their wool has a long staple length, ranging between 3 and 5 inches. Additionally, each fiber has an average diameter of 27.5 microns.

A mature ram weighs up to 260 lbs. while ewes weigh up to 200 lbs. The breed is famous for its hardiness, especially its ability to withstand the harsh conditions in the northern Rocky Mountains.

Typical Behavior of the Panama Sheep Breed

Panama sheep are docile, a temperament inherited from their parent species. The rams are surprisingly calm and unassuming.

They don’t show aggression or fight. Panama sheep are great pets that don’t mind human interaction and go about their activities quietly.

The animals have a strong flocking instinct, making them suitable for farmers who like keeping many sheep.

Mature animals are easy feeders and make good use of high-quality pasture and roughages. They also drink a lot of water.

Advantages of the Panama Sheep Breed

The Panama sheep breed comprises hardy and resilient animals. As mentioned earlier, the sheep are famous for surviving the unfavorable conditions in the Rocky Mountains. That said, they do well in different climates, hot and cold.

Secondly, Panamas are among the most productive dual-purpose breeds. Their fleece is as good as their meat. As a farmer, you can make a profit by shearing the wool and later selling the carcass when the animal matures.

It is easy to handle Panama sheep because they do not have horns. Polled sheep are also less susceptible to getting stuck in fences and less likely to hurt inferior animals.

Finally, Panama sheep are highly resistant to foot rot, a disease that causes discomfort and difficulty walking.

This condition is particularly prevalent in cold regions, where moisture accumulation provides a habitat for bacteria that cause rotting.

Panama sheep out in winter

Disadvantages of the Panama Sheep Breeds

One of the undesirable characteristics some Panama sheep inherit from their parent breeds is wool blindness. This happens when the fleece overgrows such that it covers the eyes, interfering with the animal’s vision. The solution to this problem is selective mating.

Taking Care of the Panama Sheep Breed

Here is how to take care of your Panama sheep.

Provide shelter

Despite their hardiness, building a shelter that protects your animals against the elements is advisable.

Ensure the structure has sections separating pregnant, sick, and young sheep. Also, line the floor with hay or straw to warm the sheep during winter. These make it easier to clean the pen.

Provide food

An average sheep requires 2% of its body weight as food for daily survival. However, commercial dual-purpose breeds like Panama require more food and water to produce substantial yields.

Rams should eat at least 4% of their body weight, while lactating ewes should eat 5% and drink plenty of water for adequate milk production.


Like human fingernails, hooves grow throughout a sheep’s life. If left unattended, they grow so long that they affect the animal’s bone structure and balance. For these reasons, it’s best to trim your sheep every two months.

You will need a few tools, including trimmers, a paring knife, and a hoof pick. Trim the hooves until the soles are even and the sheep can walk comfortably. Trimming isn’t easy, but it’s doable. You’ll have to flip the sheep over more than once before you’re done.


Panama sheep are a beginner-friendly breed with a high lifetime prolificacy. Their rams are docile and unassuming, while the ewes have an excellent maternal instinct—both sexes like staying in flocks, an ideal quality for large-scale sheep farmers. Lastly, Panama sheep are hardy and excel in various climatic conditions.

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