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When Ovis Angelica started out, the original plan was to breed a dairy sheep that was suited to South African conditions. Because there were no dairy sheep genetics available in South Africa at the time (1999), it was decided to import frozen semen of the East Friesland breed from New Zealand.
Because the East Friesland is not well adapted to warm climates like South Africa's semi-Karoo, where the farm Patria is situated, cross-breeding had to take place to bring hardiness into the sheep. That was the main reason why the Afrino and Fattail Afrikaner sheep breeds were selected. The Afrino is a breed that was specifically developed for the Karoo environment in South Africa. The Fattail Afrikaner is an indigenous breed that is renowned for its hardiness and high libido. Because there already were Merion Landsheep on the farm, some of these ewes were also used in the crossbreeding program with the idea of creating a breed called the SA Milksheep.
Even with crossbreeding, it was found that the sheep were not hardy enough for the harsh warm climate in South Africa. The sheep were less resistant to internal parasites and the occurrence of cancer on the eyelids and ears of the ewes were especially problematic. This was due to a lack of pigmentation and hair cover on the ears of the sheep.
To solve the problem experienced with cancer, Awassi rams from the improved dairy line were imported from Australia in 2012. The rams are currently being used in crossbreeding with the current dairy sheep, but the intention is to finally end up with pure dairy Awassi. These are currently the only Awassi sheep in South Africa.
The main reasons for selecting the Awassi were adaptability and hardiness of the breed, high milk yield and better pigmentation on the heads of the sheep in particular.
The Awassi sheep is a fat-tailed sheep originating from the Middle East. Recognised for its hardiness, the Awassi is able to thrive in areas not normally suited to sheep production due to its ability to adapt to many different environments and walk large distances in search of food and water.
Although probably best known for its high milk production and long lactation periods, the Awassi is also highly sought after for meat production. Ewes have a tendency to conceive while still rearing a young lamb. Ease of lambing is a strong attribute of the Awassi.
The question can be asked why the Awassi should be the preferred dairy sheep in South Africa instead of the East Friesland? The Awassi is a very hardy breed and has the ability to walk long distances in search of grazing. They browse as well as graze and are therefore very versatile in low rainfall areas. After the East Friesland, the Awassi is regarded as the best dairy sheep in the world. They also have very long lactation periods of up to 275 days.
Greatly bigger total milk production was discovered of awassi sheep than of east-friesian sheep in a study that was done in Macedonia in 2006 although the lactation period was shorter than that of the EF. It was also found during the study that there was greatly higher fat percentage with the awassi sheep (6.92%) compared to EF breed (5.64%). Analogue on fat percent, awassi sheep produced significantly higher quantity milk fat (19.42 kg) than east-friesian sheep (14.11 kg ).
It was found that the protein percentage is insignificantly higher with awassi sheep (4.87%) compared to EF (4.85%), but protein production is significantly higher for awassi sheep compared with EF. This is probably because of the bigger quantity of produced milk of awassi sheep.
A limited amount of sheep are made available for sale each year. Frozen semen and embryos are also available for local sheep farmers as well as for export purposes.
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