The Persian sheep is a fat-tailed breed of domestic sheep from Somalia, Africa, bred primarily for meat.
History of the Persian sheep
The ancestors of the Blackhead Persian were initially introduced to South Africa by chance in 1869.
Damaged by a storm at sea, a ship carrying a number of slaughter sheep landed in the country. A ram and three ewes, were taken to Wellington where the breed was further developed. More animals were likely introduced by Somali traders along the eastern coast.
A South African studbook was set up in 1906 and by the 1930’s there were 4000 registered animals. The Persian (Blackhead) Sheep Breeders’ Society of South Africa was formed in 1930.
The Persian was crossbred with local breeds and also “improved” though crossings with other breeds local to South Africa, including the Dorper. It was estimated that were around two million Persian Blackheads in South Africa by the 1950s. The breed has since been introduced to Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Ghana and imported into the Caribbean region, Central and South America for cross-breeding purposes.
Persian sheep Characteristics
To the uninitiated breed is sometimes confused with goats. They are a type of hair sheep that do not grow wool, allowing them to better tolerate heat. They have high fertility, good maternal instincts and become remarkably placid when regularly handled. The Persian is fat-rumped breed and both sexes are polled.
The outstanding feature of Persian sheep is their colour and pattern. The breed comes in two basic varieties: harlequin (or speckled ) and kleur kop (which means ‘coloured head’).
Harlequin or Speckled sheep have solid coloured heads, legs and tails, while the body is covered with spots and patches on a white background. The pattern on each sheep is unique and can be black, brown, red, tri-colour or blue.
The kleur kop or coloured head is entirely white, except for the head which can be either black, brown, red, tri-colour or blue.
Facts about the Persian Sheep:
- Raised primarily for meat
- Very healthy breed and with the ability to put on fat in tough grazing conditions
- This breed is known for its fertility
- No lambing problems
- Even temperament
- Low water intake
- Effective foraging ability
- High quality soft leather (known as Cape glover)
- Excellent mother line for crossbreeding
- Ability to breed every eight months and to produce a high number of twins
- Ewes lactate for approximately 84 days, produce 50 kg (110 lb) of milk with 5.9% fat