Polled; southern adapted; prolific; can be worked with dogs
The name Tunis describes the breed’s connections to foundation stock from Tunisia in North Africa. North African sheep, variously described as “fat tailed,” “broad tailed,” and “Barbary” sheep, were brought to the US as a gift by the Bey of Tunis to George Washington in the late 1700s. The pair was placed with Judge Richard Peters of Belmont, Pennsylvania, who made rams available and gave away lambs to help spread this sheep breed to others. References to these sheep appear in letters, journals, and farm records of some of the leading agriculturists and citizens of the day, including John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Richard Peters, Charles Roundtree, and George Washington Custis. Gradually, a uniquely American breed was created from this stock. Tunis sheep were a recognizable breed by the late 18th to early 19th century, making them one of the oldest breeds of livestock developed in America.
Tunis sheep spread throughout the mid-Atlantic and southeastern US and were well adapted to the heat and humidity of these regions. The Tunis was the mainstay of sheep production in the upper South and mid-Atlantic regions until the Civil War, when nearly all Southern stock was destroyed. Credit for saving the breed from extinction is given to Maynard Spigener of South Carolina. During the war he protected the last flock of Tunis by hiding them on his land along the Congoree River near the city of Columbia. After the war the Great Lakes region and New England became strongholds for the breed. It is only recently that the Tunis breed has again been seen in the Southeast.
Tunis are striking in appearance, with red faces and legs and ivory-colored fleeces. Their clean heads and lop ears are distinctive, and the breed gives the impression of activity and intelligence. The sheep weigh 150–275 lbs. and both sexes are polled. Lambs are born with a double coat of red fiber on their bodies to protect them from the elements. Their body fleece lightens as they mature, but they retain their red legs, heads, and ears. They commonly have white spots on the top of their heads and tail tip. They have wool-free heads and legs, and they have fat tails.
The Tunis is a very docile dual-purpose breed that has been selected primarily for meat production. Market lambs are economical to raise and produce high quality carcasses with excellent meat-to-bone ratios. The fleece is medium-grade wool, which turns white during processing. Fleeces weigh 7-12 lbs. and have a staple length of 3-5 inches. Ewes are prolific, fertile, and consistently produce twins. They are heavy milkers and make attentive mothers. Tunis sheep are good grazers and easy keepers, allowing them to thrive in forage-based production systems.
The Tunis sheep breed has benefited in recent years from the growing sustainable agriculture movement in the US as they can thrive in less-than-ideal environments. They are now increasing in numbers. The breed is becoming increasingly recognized for its good potential for low-input production of meat, wool, and milk for cheese. They are a good breed for novice owners and can be worked with a sheepdog.
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