As the name indicates, the Tunis sheep originated in Tunisia on the northern coast of Africa. The Tunis is one of the oldest breeds of livestock developed in America. The first Tunis ewes that were imported to America were a gift from the Bey of Tunis to Judge Richard Peters of Belmont, PA. He used rams that he had available here and then gave lambs away to spread the breed. Their popularity continued to grow and once they were one of the predominant breeds in this country. They have been listed on the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy as a rare breed. However the numbers of Tunis that are registered each year has continued to grow, which is a testament to the growing popularity of the breed.
The Tunis is a medium sized sheep with a very distinctive look and are affectionately called “the Red Heads”. Tunis sheep have creamy colored wool that is set off by cinnamon red colored head and legs. They also have a slender head, very expressive eyes and long pendant shaped ears and a very calm disposition, which is the hallmark of the breed. They are alert and their eyes, as well as their ears, convey intelligence and grace. Tunis sheep are known for their disease resistance and their ability to thrive on marginal pasture. The Tunis is feed efficient and require less feed to produce marketable lambs in the same time period as larger breeds.
They have a tolerance for both warm and cold climates. The Tunis is known for breeding out of season and Fall lambs are quite common. Mature rams weigh between 175 and 225 pounds, while mature ewes weigh between 125 to 175 pounds.
Tunis ewes are excellent mothers and are heavy milkers. They produce very vigorous lambs that weigh between 7-12 pounds at birth. The lambs have a coat of red or tan wool and sometimes a white spot on their heads or tip of their tails. This red or tan wool grows out to the creamy color that the adults have and the hair on their faces and legs remains the red color.
Tunis wool has a staple length of 4 to 6 inches, a micron count of 24 to 30 and a Bradford Count of 56s to 58s. Each Tunis ewe produces approximately 6 to 9 pounds of fleece each year.
The Tunis sheep has a lot to offer today’s sheep industry. Feed efficiency, easy birthing, excellent mothering, heavy milking, docile temperament, extended breeding season, heat tolerance and disease resistance are just a few of the many reasons they are growing in popularity.