Known By: American Tunis
The Tunis is one of the oldest breeds indigenous to the United States.
It is a medium-sized meat-type sheep characterized by creamy wool, copper-red
colored faces & legs, pendulous ears, and minor fat deposits over the
Origin and History
The American Tunis evolved from a number of importations of fat-tailed
sheep from Africa and the Middle East in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
These sheep were crossed with some established European breeds to improve
the meat characteristics.
The earliest documented importation occurred in 1799. They came as
a gift to the U.S. from the ruler of Tunisia, his highness the Bey of Tunis,
and were entrusted to the care of Judge Richard Peters of Pennsylvania
who became an outspoken advocate of the breed. 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.
Thomas Jefferson imported "broad-tailed" sheep and kept them for many years.
He preferred them over his Merinos for their mutton and wool-producing
attributes. The breed was quite popular as in 1892, Ezra Carmen in
a chapter of A Report of the Sheep Industry of the U.S. wrote, " But for
the introduction of the fine-wooled Merino, these Tunisian sheep would
probably have become disseminated throughout the U.S., and in some of them
have become the prevailing flocks."
Some breeders desire to preserve and utilize a heritage breed for its own
worth. Others 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.
Tunis are also known for their disease resistance and their ability to
remain productive on marginal land. They also exhibit a tolerance for both
warm and cold climates.
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
At birth, Tunis lambs weigh 7-12 pounds. Mature rams in breeding
condition weigh between 175 and 225 pounds and measure 28-30 inches at
the withers. Mature ewes should be 25 to 50 pounds lighter and 2
to 4 inches shorter. Individual animals in show condition will likely exceed
these weights. The breed is alert and their eyes as well as ears convey
intelligence and grace.
When Tunis lambs
are first born they are red or tan in color. A white spot is sometimes
present on the forehead and on the tip of the tail. The lambs gradually
turn white as the wool grows although the hair on the face and legs retains
a reddish or tan color. Both rams and ewes are polled. Some sources also
report an ability to breed out of season.
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.
Briggs, Hilton M & Dinus M. Briggs. 1980. Modern Breeds
of Livestock. Fourth Edition, MacMillian Company.
Conservation Priority Livestock Breeds 1995, American Livestock Breeds
Conservancy, ALBC, Pittsboro, NC.
Domestic Animal Diversity
Information System, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United
Mason, I.L. World Dictionary of Livestock Breeds. Third Edition. C.A.B
William Mende and Helen Kirby-Mende, Hawk Meadow Farm, Elizabethville, PA
Deborah Hunter-Simon, Shepherds of Goose Pass, Springport, MI
Val Ames, Green Lane Farm, Williamsford, Ontario E-mail:
email@example.com (Photo B)
Muriel T. Asbornsen, Sheepfold Farm, Stuyvesant, NY (Photo C)
William Mende and Helen Kirby-Mende, Hawk Meadow Farm, Elizabethville,
PA E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org (Photo A)
Deborah Hunter-Simon, Shepherds of Goose Pass, Springport, MI (Photo D)
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Updated May 28, 2002