Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Tunis Sheep

I promised more on tunis sheep (you know you want to know!) so here it is.

Tunis originated in Africa and are believed to have existed during the time of Christ, and up to over 3000 years ago. They are also one of the oldest indigenous breed in the United States. They are a fat tailed breed and were also known as the Barbary Fat Tail or the Barbary Broad Tail Mountain Sheep. The tunis of today are called 'American Tunis' due to the fact when they were first brought to this country there were so few of them they were cross bred with other breeds of the day. With subsequent shipments, the breed ran truer but still is not exactly the same as the fat tailed breed that still exists today in Tunisia.

Tunis came to the Eastern part of the country in 1789, when Colonel Pickering had taken delivery of three sheep from the consult of the United States at Tunis, William Eaton, Esq. The original shipment had been 10 sheep, all but one ram and one ewe perished in the crossing from North Africa. There were other shipments, and some cross breeding with other popular breeds of the time. In 1811, Judge Richard Peters writes of this and his subsequent acquisition of tunis from Colonel Pickering in "Memoir on the Tunis broad Tailed Sheep, by Richard Peters, Esq. President of the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture • [From the Memoirs of the Society]".

These sheep were also owned by other early Americans including Tomas Jefferson, and they were a daily sight at the White House and at Monticello in their lawn mowing duties. However, Judge Peters was the strongest advocate for the tunis sheep and in his writings in the above mentioned article, he bemoans the fact that the merino has taken such a tenacious hold on the attitudes of people, to the disregard of other breeds. These are his talking points for the tunis breed, I have highlighted points I think are of particular value, even today;

  • 1. The Tunis sheep are better set with wool than any others generally known here. The Merino may be an exception; but it remains for experiment, in a common course of keeping sheep, by farmers here. There is no part of its body uncovered. It does not shed its wool like common sheep; so that I have never seen a ragged Tunis sheep, where the blood of the stock predominated. If the wool of the mixed breed is deciduous, it shows that the sheep partakes of the cross more than the stock. I have known one kept unshorn for a year after the fleece might have been taken off and the fleece continued entire and thriving and the sheep remained in high health; but I would not recommend this as an eligible practice. For very fine fabrics the Merino wool can be used alone and such are only within the purchase of the wealthy. It is most generally mixed with fine wool of other fleeces, and it is in such case worked to most profit. The Tunis wool is sufficient for all common purposes, and be applied without mixture with other wool, to more uses than that of the Merino or any other sheep known here. The average weight of fleeces is from five to five and a half, and I have known some flocks to average six pounds: I speak of a selected flock, well fed, and attended to with care. From individual sheep of the full blood I have shorn eight, nine, and ten pounds. I mean in this estimate washed wool, or from sheep washed before shearing. I have generally, but not always practiced this, and I have never found any advantage either as to cleanness of wool or health of the sheep. In the crosses, pains should be taken to select breeders of the best forms and fleeces. From carelessness in this respect, many persons have injured the character of this sheep and its fleece. It is as vain to expect good fleeces from a starved, neglected, or ill assorted flock, as it is to count on a good crop from a poor and illmanaged field. I am convinced that the wool of this sheep has never been properly known or appreciated, the mutton having been the object. I have now as fine and as white home-made blankets, and have seen as fine flannel, made from the white wool of spotted fleeces, as those made from any other wool usually devoted to such purposes; there being always as much white wool as will answer for every fabric requiring it. In the dressing of blankets and flannels, we are yet much behind the Europeans.
  • 2. They are hardy, and will bear either cold or heat better than any others within my knowledge. I have, on a small scale (never less in number than one or two score, and frequently from 80 to 100) had an interest in, and kept sheep of every breed known in this country, for a period of forty-five years—some breeds recently introduced, and the Merino excepted, I never knew a hardier sheep than are those of the Tunis breed. Were I to point out, in my estimation, the proper form, size, and valuable points and qualities of a sheep, I could not more justly designate them, than by exactly describing my old ram Caramelli.
  • 3. They fatten with less food, and much quicker, than any other sheep. That other sheep become as fat, I know; but more time and food are required, so to make them. They will bear to be kept fat, without being diseased, far beyond any others within my knowledge. The carcass is heavy but not coarse, as are many other sheep of large sizes. The heaviest ewe of this breed I have known weighed 182 pounds alive, when sheared. Her fleece, clean washed, weighed eight and one half pounds; she was half blood. A half-bred ram, a twin, at eighteen months old weighed 214 pounds.
  • 4. Their character is that of gentleness and quietude; and they live in health, vigour, and usefulness, to greater ages than other sheep. I never saw a breachy* Tunis sheep. Some exceptions there maybe, but they are rare. Yet they are not inactive, but use sufficient exercise for health, without wandering and fickleness as to pastures. In these they are not over nice; and will keep in good condition upon coarser and less food than any sheep I am acquainted with.
  • 5. Their general healthfulness enables them to retain their fleeces. A diseased Tunis sheep is rare, even in a mixed flock, in which other sheep have been subject to every disease known in that animal. I have had them disordered in the feet with the fouls, but not the foot-rot. If the hoofs of sheep are examined, there will be found a small opening near and above the fore part of the cleft. It is the mouth of a duct, running up the shank, and calculated for the emission of mucilaginous oil, which lubricates, supports and assists in the growth and renewal of the corneous parts of the hoof. Perhaps it is also a drain for humours which when confined, become morbid and peccant. If this closes, the disease appears. Examine well and rub briskly the parts together; assist the opening of the duct and the discharge of the morbid and stagnated matter in every way. Pokejuice I have found efficacious, few are acquainted with this part of the animal structure, though I believe all cloven-footed animals are thus formed. Swine have the duct in the binder part of the leg; cattle in the cleft, which, when diseased, is lacerated often by a hair rope drawn between the clefts, when gentler means would effect the purpose.
  • 6. A Tunis tup* couples with a ewe of other breeds with more certainty and effect, than a tup of the common species with a Tunis ewe. The broad tail is the impediment. This must be managed by an adroit pander. I have known frequent failures in projected crosses, owing to inattention in this particular; but the Tunis tup finds no difficulty with a ewe of his own race. However whimsical it may appear, the colour of the tongue of any breed is said to be important in the selection of a tup. The third Georgic of Virgil records the fact, which I have seen verified in several instances. I give Dryden's translation of the passage

    “Even though a snowy ram thou shaIt behoId,
    Prefer him not in haste for husband to thy fold,
    But search his mouth; and if swarthy tongue
    Is underneath his humid palate hung,
    Reject him, lest he darken all thy flock;
    And substitute another from thy stock”
    If this should seem to some improbable, It will be no difficult task for the incredulous to avoid the black tongue, lest, perchance, the denunciation of Virgil may turn out well founded.

  • 7. The tail is the true test of purity of blood; and horns are a bad symptom, especially if large. The tufts on the thighs, and crest, or forelock are also marks of blood.

*Breach - Apt to break fences or to break out of pasture; unruly
*Tup - a ram.

1 comment:

Debbi (and Bob) Brown said...

Thanks for posting the informative article written so long ago. Mr. Peters addresses all the wonderful characteristics of the Tunis sheep that led us to choose them for our small farm in Texas.