Four Facts About India’s Sheep

There are over 40 recognized indigenous breeds of sheep in India; learn about the characteristics of the wool and how it is used according to its coarseness, softness, or warmth.

Chitra Balasubramaniam Jan 10, 2024 - 7 min read

Four Facts About India’s Sheep Primary Image

Left: Patanwadi sheep (photo by Ishaan Raghunandan, courtesy of Centre for Pastoralism); right: Deccani sheep (photo by Nipun Prabhakar for Living Lightly, courtesy of Centre for Pastoralism)

The Winter 2024 issue of Spin Off introduces us to the use of natural fibers in over a dozen countries: the wool of the Kainuu Grey and Finnsheep in Finland, flax in Sweden, Navajo-Churro wool in New Mexico, banana fibers in Micronesia, Timahdite wool in Morocco, suri alpaca fiber in Washington, the list goes on. As fascinating as all of these stories are, we were surprised to discover that India has the world’s second largest population of sheep!

Spin Off contributor Chitra Balasubramaniam wrote about the wealth of indigenous wool in India. The following text was excerpted from her article, “Desi Oon: Spinning India’s Indigenous Wool.” To read the full article, pick up a copy of Winter 2024 Spin Off. —Editors

While India is most known for cotton and silk production, Indian shepherds raise dozens of native sheep breeds. In 2022, the International Wool Textile Organization listed India as having the second-largest population of sheep in the world.

The indigenous wool fibers are short staple and difficult to weave or process. The wool is also coarser, and processing it into apparel as is makes it difficult to sell. The Centre for Pastoralism and Desi Oon, a collaboration of organizations working with indigenous wool and wool crafts, were set up to find a use for the wool so that it would become lucrative for the shepherds to retain their flocks and be able to view wool with pride.


A shepherd stands near a variety of colorful sheep at a market in India (photo by Varsha Solanki, courtesy of Centre for Pastoralism)

Here, we introduce you to four facts about India’s sheep.

Diverse Heritage Breeds

The national Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources of India recognizes 44 indigenous breeds of sheep. Several other varieties of sheep have not yet been registered or recognized by the bureau. These include sheep from the Gangetic Plains, the central part of India, and other such regions. The wool of each of these heritage breeds has its own typical characteristics.

This diversity of wool is like icing on the cake, with a range of characteristics that make the wool amazing for spinners, weavers, and knitters to experiment with. The wool from the colder regions such as the Himalayan belt is longer and softer, while other regions produce coarser wool.

Left: A woman spinning Deccani wool; right: A Gongadi, or black blanket, woven from Deccani wool (photos by Khyati Vinod, courtesy of Centre for Pastoralism)

Coarse Wool for Traditional Textiles

One of the breeds most spoken about is the Deccani sheep. Found in the states of Karnataka, Telangana, and Maharashtra, the natural-colored wool varies from black to dark brown to light brown. The wool is a coarse 30 microns. The black wool from the Deccani sheep is used to weave the Gongadi, a handspun, handwoven black blanket with colored stripes at the end. This blanket is given in marriages and is worn on special occasions, but the shepherds carry it with them at all times. It can also be called an all-weather jacket that wards off the cold, absorbs rain, keeps the wearer dry, and is excellent protection against the sun.

Left: Women spinning wool on a charkha, a term that means spinning wheel in Hindi and does not specifically refer to box- or book-style charkhas (photo by Varsha Solanki; courtesy of Centre for Pastoralism); right: Gaddi Sheep near Kangra (photo by Hasmat Singh, courtesy of Centre for Pastoralism)

The Softest of Wools

The Gaddi is a breed from the Himalaya hills in Himachal Pradesh, the northernmost state of India. This breed can be seen in the Himalayan belt, and it produces one of the softest wools from India. The Gaddi is a crossbred sheep that has a double coat—a fine undercoat and a long overcoat. I’m told that the mix of long and short fibers makes it ideal for spinning. The sheep, its wool, and handspinning are woven into the cultural fabric of the area. The wool’s natural coloration ranges from creamy white to light brown to chocolate to bluish gray.

Left: Patanwadi sheep (photo by Khamir, courtesy of Centre for Pastoralism); right: detail of a felted item (photo by Chitra Balasubramaniam)

Wool for Warmth

From the desert regions of Rajasthan, particularly Bikaner, comes the Bikaner Chokla sheep. The wool is the finest from the area and is known for its warmth. Patanwadi from Kutch comes in a naturally colored brown. Felting is carried out in almost all areas where sheep are found.

Efforts are underway to make it lucrative for the herders to continue breeding these heritage breeds and use the wool to their advantage. Desi Oon and others continue to work on smaller scales, helping to connect makers with markets for the wool products that form an important part of the heritage of India.


This article was excerpted from Spin Off Winter 2024.

Also, remember that if you are an active subscriber to Spin Off magazine, you have unlimited access to previous issues, including Winter 2024. See our help center for the step-by-step process on how to access them.

Chitra Balasubramaniam writes about, collects, and experiments with textiles, following her passion for writing about food, travel, and heritage. She dabbles with stock investment analysis and research. She also runs a small travel log,, and can be found on Instagram @visitors2delhi, and on Twitter @chitrabalasub.