~ About The Tunis Sheep Breed ~
Origin, History and Economic Utility
The Tunis is one of the oldest breeds of sheep. As the name indicates, the Tunis originated in Tunisia on the Northern coast of Africa. The earliest documented importation to the U.S.A. occurred in 1799, a gift from the ruler of Tunisia and entrusted to the care of Judge Richard Peters of Pennsylvania who became an outspoken advocate of the breed. One of the largest advocates of the Tunis breed was Thomas Jefferson, who owned a fairly large flock.
The Tunis popularity spread quickly and flocks were started primarily on the East coast and New England, where many remain today. Most of the Southern flocks were wiped out during the Civil War. The National Tunis Sheep Registry, Inc. has experienced continuous growth in registrations and transfers, moving from the threatened status to the watch list of the ALBC Conservation Priority List. Although Tunis are currently listed as rare with the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (Box 477, Pittsboro, NC 27312), the NTSR has surpassed 1000 lamb registrations per year. Attesting to the breed's wider acceptance and growing popularity there has been a steady increase in registrations for the past 10 years. By the 1820's, Tunis were in much demand by butchers in eastern Pennsylvania. Descendants of Judge Peters' sheep, as well as additional importations of fat-tailed sheep became established in Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia.
Some are investigating the economic uses for the American Tunis. Their role in crossbreeding has traditionally been to produce premium lambs for the hot house/ethnic market on the Eastern seaboard. This is one of the reasons Tunis have remained so popular in the East while remaining almost unknown in other parts of the country.
The Tunis (also known as Tunisian Barbary or American Tunis) is a medium sized sheep with a very distinctive look. Tunis are very feed efficient, requiring less feed than larger breeds to produce marketable lambs at the same weights within similar timeframes. The ewes are excellent mothers who have a high rate of twinning, are heavy milkers, are productive for much of their long lives, and are easily handled with very docile temperaments.Tunis have a creamy colored wool that is set off by a solid tan to cinnamon red colored head and legs. Tunis sheep have a slender head, very expressive eyes and long pendulous ears. Both rams and ewes are naturaly polled. Their expression conveys a calm and docile nature, which is a hallmark of the breed. White spots on the top of the head and tip of the tail are also common. The lambs gradually turn white as the wool grows although the hair on the face and legs retains a reddish or tan color. Tunis also are known for disease resistance, the ability to tolerate both warm and cold climates and their ability to remain productive on marginal land. The Tunis sheep breed excels on pasture. In fact, due to their desert ancestry, Tunis will survive where many other breeds would starve and are very heat tolerant.
The Tunis offers some very unique potential for those using it in an out-crossing program. The Tunis has the ability to stamp its feed efficiency onto its crossbred offspring; half Tunis lambs are noted for great weight gains, great feed conversion rates, and fast finishing. In particular, the Tunis-Dorset cross produces one of the best market lambs obtainable. Also, retained ewe lamb from this cross can be bred anytime of the year and seem to excel in mothering traits above even pure Tunis or Dorset ewes (two of the best breeds for mothering characteristics).
The meat from the Tunis sheep is tender and flavorful without having a strong mutton taste, and the meat is also sweet. Tunis carcasses yield a high percentage of meat thanks to the breed's fine but strong bone structure and length of hind-saddle. Individual animals in show condition will likely exceed these weights. Tunis sheep are also noted for the fine flavor of their meat. It is said that Tunis mutton tastes as good as lamb of other breeds. Many find Tunis mutton superior. Tunis lamb has a long history of being sought after for its delicate and fine flavor. In fact, in the early 1800s Tunis lambs were the most sought after in the hothouse lamb markets around Philadelphia. Another bonus of Tunis cross lambs is that they inherit the improved flavor of meat that the Tunis is uniquely noted for.
Here is an example of how meaty Tunis sheep are -
Tunis wool is a lustrous 24 to 30 microns, long-stapled 4 to 6 inches that has found favor in many fiber and textile enterprises. Ewes typically shear a fleece weighing 6 to 9 pounds of this 3/8th's blood, 56 to 58 spinning count wool. Tunis wool is light ivory to cream in color.
Tunis lambs are robust at birth and are warmed by a double coat which is mahogany red on the surface. The creamy white fleece appears as the lamb matures. Twins are more common than not. Tunis are known to breed out of season, which makes them valuable for fall lamb production. At birth, Tunis lambs weigh 7 to 12 lb (3 to 5 kg).
Here are some Tunis lamb pictures -
Tunis ewes are heavy milkers—heavy enough that some are used in sheep dairies. Mature ewes should be 25 to 50 lb (10 to 20 kg) lighter and 2 to 4 in (5 to 10 cm) shorter.
Mature rams in breeding condition weigh between 175 and 225 lb (80 and 100 kg) and measure 28 to 30 in (71 to 76 cm) at the withers. The rams are also noted for their libido, being quite active when young and even during hot weather.
The Tunis summed up
Feed efficiency, long lives, easy birthing, high rate of twinning, excellent mothering, heavy milking, docile temperament, high carcass yields, mild flavored, extended season, excellent wool quality, prolific, medium sized, heat tolerance, and vigor, Tunis have a lot to offer!
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