Although this report is concerned primarily with the humid tropics the picture would not be complete without including some subtropical breeds. It could be argued, for instance, that prolific breeds from these areas will be more adapted to high temperature than breeds from northern Europe.
The climates in which these breeds live are as follows: D'man (Morocco) and Omani - subtropical steppe (BS of Köppen), Hu-yang of China and Svanka of Georgia - humid subtropical (Ca), Greece - Mediterranean or dry summer subtropical (Cs).
Distribution and management. The D'man is a very special local breed confined to the subsaharan oases (“palmeraies”) in the southeast of Morocco between the high Atlas and the Sahara. Its origin was in the Tafilalet (in the Ziz valley) and it has spread to the Dadés valley and to the Dra valley because of the traditional exchange of animals between the Draoui and the Filali tribes. Thus its present distribution area extends from Rissani to Zagora (see Figure 2). It is also found in oases in some parts of the Algerian Sahara, namely Touat, Tidikelt and Gourara which have close historic links with the Tafilalet. Indeed in Algeria the breed is called “race du Tafilalet” (Bouix and Kadiri, 1975). These areas are a long way from the Moroccan border. Yousef (1977) says that in Algeria the D'man breed is in fact commonest around Béchar (and especially the neighbouring town of Dibdaba) which is only about 170 km east of Rissani. The Algerian authorities have formed an experimental flock at Abadla 100 km south of Béchar.
There are about 400,000 D'man sheep in Morocco out of a total population of about 14 million (Marie et al., 1976).
The sheep are kept in small groups of 1–3 ewes per family and, since the whole of the oases is cultivated in gardens (averaging 1 ha in area), they remain permanently housed either in the farmer's house or in small sheds or pens in the vicinity. They are fed on lucerne, reject dates, date stones, kitchen waste, forage maize and straw. They are also grazed on cereal stubble, weed regrowth, and vegetation on sides of fields, paths and irrigation canals. Their dung is an important fertilizer for the date palms.
Export from Morocco is forbidden.
Description (Plates 23–25) - The animals are small, ewes weighing 30–40 kg and rams 50–60 kg (Bouix and Kadiri, 1975). However in the stations of Tabouassamt and Achouria corresponding weights are 40–50 kg and 65–85 kg indicating chronic underfeeding in farmers' flocks (Bouix et al., 1977).
The D'man breed is rangy and fine-boned. The head is narrow with a profile slightly convex in the female and markedly so in the male. Both sexes lack horns but males may carry scurs. Ears are long and pendant. The neck is long and narrow and often has tassels in the female, more rarely in the male. The chest is narrow and shallow and the withers are prominent. The abdomen is large. The tail is attached low; its length is variable, about to the hocks. Stance is often bad and hooves are small (Bouix and Kadiri, 1975).
FIGURE 2. THE AREA OF THE D'MAN SHEEP IN MOROCCO.
The fleece is not extensive and weighs less than 1 kg; it does not cover belly and legs and sometimes it is absent or covers only the back. The staple is open and short and wool is hairy or very hairy. The male often has long hair on the neck and along the spine (Marie et al., 1976). Colour and pattern are of all imaginable varieties. Animals may be entirely black or brown or white or a mixture of two or of all three of these colours. Pigmente head may be combined with white fleece but not vice versa. Black animals have a white tail tip. In brown animals the head and extremities are brown and the fleece is tinged with brown (Bouix and Kadiri, 1975).
Reproduction. Owners claim that ewes first lamb at the age of one year and the interval between lambings is 6 months and 10 days. Lambing occurs throughout the year. Average litter size is two with a range of one to six (Bouix and Kadiri, 1975). Table 23 shows some figures obtained in stations. These tend to confirm the farmers' figures. In addition to the figures in Table 23 Harrouni (1976–77) made the following observations: Gestation period 149.5 days (range 139–162); days from parturition to first oestrus 49 (10–80); age at puberty 150 days (youngest 132); weight at puberty 19.3 kg (52% of adult weight); duration of oestrus 30 hours (adults), 24 hours (yearlings); length of oestrous cycle 4–58 days with peaks at 16–17 and 34–36 days.
Body weights and growth rate. Average birth weight was 2.3 kg in the data of Bouix and Kadiri (1975). Males were 15–20 percent heavier than females and lambs out of adult ewes 10 percent heavier than those from yearlings. Weight was reduced by 15–20 percent for each additional lamb in the litter. Thus twin males out of adult ewes weighed 2.8 kg but triplet females only 2.0 kg. Average weight at 10 days was 3.8 kg with the same variation, at 30 days it was 6.8 kg, at 90 days (weaning) 17.1 kg and at 6 months 33.5 kg. Average daily gain was 150 g between 10 and 30 days, 172 g between 30 and 90 days and 157 g between 90 days and 6 months. It should be noted that no artificial rearing of lambs was practised. Weight and growth rates are tabulated according to age of dam and sex and type of birth of lamb. The difference between male and female lambs increased with age but that between singles and multiples decreased.
Marie et al. (1976) report that milk yield is 90–140 litres per lactation, sufficient for 2–3 lambs.
Bouix et al. (1977) tabulate the ranges for weights and growth rates over several lamb crops (spring and autumn, two stations, several years).
|Tabouassamt 1974||Tabouassamt and Achouria (a)||Skoura 1973–76|
|Age at first lambing|
No. of ewes
|420 days||12–14 months||530 days|
|240–524 days||= 365–427 days||317–730 days(b)|
No. of intervals
|192||185 – 195||202|
|175 – 224||163 – 230|
No. of ewes
|93||94||87 – 93|
% single births
% twin births
% triplet births
% quadruplet births
% quintuplet births
% sextuplet births
|Lamb mortality |
(to weaning) %
|Litter size at weaning|
|Source||Bouix and Kadiri, 1975||Bouix et al., 1977||Harrouni, 1976/77|
a) The range is between the mean for different lambing crops - autumn and spring, two stations, different years.
b) Ewes not mated till 11–13 months of age or 30 kg in weight.
Improvement and research. Several stations have recently been established to conserve, study and improve the D'man breed. In December 1971 a flock was assembled on the Domaine Royale de Tabouassamt at Rissani by the Direction des Domaines Royales in cooperation with the Direction de la Recherche Agronomique. In April 1972 the Office Régional de Mise en Valeur Agricole de Ouarzazate created the Station d'Amélioration Ovine de Skoura and in April 1973 the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique created the Station Expérimentale de Achouria at Jorf. Data from the flocks at these stations have already been quoted.
In addition various flocks have been assembled outside the habitat of the breed e.g. Casablanca, Marrakech and Meknés. The Institut Agronomique et Vétérinaire Hassan II, has an experimental flock at its station at Moghrane north of Rabat. In ongoing research on this flock Mr. Lahlou-Kassi and his colleagues in the Department of Reproduction of the Institute are studying aspects of female and male reproduction. They have already confirmed the early age at first oestrus, the short lactation anoestrus and the high ovulation rate (2.3 for yearlings and 2.8 for older animals). In the male they have demonstrated large testis size and high libido.
Bouix and Kadiri (1975) attribute the small size of the D'man to inbreeding. However, the high fertility rate does not suggest inbreeding. Furthermore they also attribute the variability in colour and fleece type to crossing with other Moroccan breeds. Again the consistenty high prolificacy does not accord with this hypothesis. It seems more likely that the small size is due to a low level of nutrition (the difference between the weight of ewes in local flocks and in experiment stations has already been remarked on) and the variation in colour and fleece to the absence of selection for these characters.
The range in colour is exactly that which the author observed in Cameroon (see Section 2.9). The hairy nature of the fleece is also reminiscent of West Africa. In fact the D'man sheep are very similar in appearance to the Fouta Djallon sheep. It is difficult to restrain the suggestion that perhaps the D'man sheep in southern Morocco and Algeria represent relicts of the sheep type existing before the arrival of the wool sheep typical of the rest of the two countries. They would thus be related to the hair sheep of West Africa which also represent the original type of domestic sheep migrating there before the evolution of wool sheep.
Conclusion. The D'man breed is of the greatest interest. It lives in small flocks in a difficult environment. Its isolation protects it from crossbreeding but it would be very sensitive to changes in economic and social conditions or to natural disasters. It is therefore very satisfactory to know that there are now several station flocks for its conservation and study. It is to be hoped that these flocks can be increased in number and size and that eventually export will be permitted so that other countries with similar conditions can benefit from this unique breed.
Bouix, J. and Kadiri, M., 1975. Un des éléments majeurs de la mise en valeur des palmeraies: la race ovine D'man. Options Méditerranéennes, No. 26: 87–94.
Bouix J., Kadiri, M., Chari, A., Ghanime, R. and Rami, A., 1977. Fiche signalétique de la race D'man. Homme, Terre et Eaux: Revue Morocaine des Sciences Agronomique et Vétérinaire, 6 (25) : 9–11.
Harrouni, M.M., 1976/77. Etude de quelques paramètres de reproduction chez la brebis de race D'man dans son berceau. Thèse pour le doctorat vétérinaire, Institut Agronomique et Vétérinaire Hassan II, Rabat, Morocco. 121 pp., mimeo.
Marie, M., Lahlou-Kassi, A. and Otte, P., 1976. Le mouton du sud-marocain-D'man. Film super 8 sonore durée 30 minutes. Département de Reproduction, Obstétrique, Insémination Artificielle, Institut Agronomique et Vétérinaire Hassan II, Rabat, Morocco.
Yousef, Ali, 1979. Personal communication.
In 1976 Dr. C.W.Fox and Mr. Khamfer (then Director of Animal Production) told the author that the sheep of Oman were thin-tailed - which marks them off from all the other sheep of the Arabian peninsula - and that triplets were common. Dr. Abdul Hamid Osman (then with ACSAD, Damascus)also reported in 1977 that the sheep of Oman were thin-tailed and prolific. It was therefore decided to visit this country (north only) and include its sheep in the project report.
Livestoc numbers The lack of information on livestock in the country is demonstrated by the disparate estimates of numbers made by various authorities as follows:
|FAO Production |
|Oman Statistical |
There is certainly a preponderance of goats over sheep in northern Oman; the author estimates it to be nearer the 8 to 1 of Bakkar's estimate than the 2 or 3 to 1 of the first two estimates. Few camels were seen and no cattle outside research and development centres.
Sheep type (Plate 26) - The same type of sheep was seen in all places visited. They vary in colour, being black, white, brown, pied, white with black face or black with white spot on tail and head. In some areas the black predominates but in most flocks no one colour or pattern was dominant. Tails are thin and hang to the hocks. There is usually a basal portion which is bare on the inner side and which may have some accumulation of fat in well fed animals. This and the long fleece gives the tail a bushy appearance. Sometimes the tail is shorter and consists only of the fleshy basal portion. The fleece is long and very coarse; it is variable in amount of hair and in extent. Animals have bare face and lower legs; the lighter fleeced ones also have bare bellies.
Ears are medium-sized and semi-lop. Sometimes they are rudimentary. Ewes are always hornless and males may or may not have short coiled horns. The animals are small and have a straight facial profile.
Sheep performance. It was extremely difficult to obtain figures about the performance of this breed. They are medium to small in size. Bakkar (1978)1 gives a body weight of 25–35 kg in Batinah and Oman Dakhel. He mentioned a larger type of 40–50 kg in Ibri of Dhahireh region. Graham Bell at the Khabura project told the author that ewes weighed 20–25 kg under farm conditions; the maximum was 35 kg under good conditions but stunted animals of 17–18 kg were common. His lambs averaged 2.4 kg at birth, 8.8 kg at 30 days and 13.4 kg at 60 days. They put on fat easily enough but are poorly muscled.
Sheep are not milked and the wool does not seem to be exploited.
As for reproduction there is a tradition that the Omani sheep are highly prolific but since no records are available from the two government flocks in Rumais and in Wadi Quryat it is difficult to confirm this. Bakkar (1978)1 in his final report writes “Sheep in Oman are characterised by high prolificacy; most of the ewes are producing twins and triplets and very few are giving birth to one lamb at a time”. Dr. Khamfer also believes in this high prolificacy. On the other hand Dr. Saad (Veterinary Officer, Nizwa) estimates that at Wadi Quryat only about 5 percent of ewes produce twins. At Rumais and in the Batinah generally Dr. Fikri (Veterinary Officer, Seeb) estimates only 2 percent. The only recorded figure available is from Graham Bell at Khabura. One ewe out of ten had produced twins.
Ewes are reported to become sexually mature at 9–12 months of age and they normally lamb once a year (during December - March). However they can lamb more frequently. At Khabura the interval between lambing and conception could be as low as 6–8 weeks.
1 Bakkar, N. 1978. Final report of animal production expert FAO Project OMA 77/001.
Sheep diseases. The chief hazard of the sheep in the country is undernutrition. This is not a problem on the stations where the sheep are fed aritificially - they graze Rhodes grass at Khabura and are fed alfalfa at the government stations. However, copper deficiency appears to be present. The most serious disease is pneumonia and other diseases present include; myiasis, sheep pox, contagious pustular dermatitis, foot-and-mouth disease, as well as worms and ticks. These diseases are only serious in combination with malnutrition.
Sheep improvement. There are about 50 breeding ewes at Rumais, 10 at Khabura and 70 at Wadi Quryat. The plans for the first two centres are to cross the local sheep with Syrian Awassis. The rams are already available at Rumais.
There is no doubt that the F1 will be larger and will produce more meat, wool and milk. The effect on fitness, i.e. fertility, viability and hardiness, must be investigated very carefully. It is these qualities that are the most important in the Omani sheep and they should not be lightly discarded by crossbreeding. Therefore the crossbreeding should be well controlled on an experimental scale before it is extended into the field. At the same time the performance of the purebred should be explored. This could be done at Wadi Quryat (as well as with half the flock at Rumais used as a control for the crossbreeding). If the flock could be increased to 100 or more ewes then it would be large enough to start a small selection programme. Selection should be for prolificacy. This is suggested because apparently numbers are more important to the local sheep keepers than in size or quality. Certainly yield of wool and milk do not seem to count. If there is to be crossbreeding, consideration should be given to the idea of crossing with another subtropical prolific breed. For this the D'man breed of Morocco would be ideal since it comes from a similar climate.
Conclusions. The sheep of Oman, and to a smaller extent of the United Arab Emirates, are certainly unique in Arabia. The only other thin-tailed wooled breeds in the Near and Middle East must be sought in isolated pockets in widely separated areas e.g. the Arrit breed of Eritrea, the Dongola of north Sudan, the Kurassi of southern Egypt, the Karayaka of north Turkey and the Zel of north Iran. It is tempting to think that these represent relict populations, in areas isolated by mountains or deserts, of the wooled sheep which displaced the earlier hair sheep but were not displaced themselves by the subsequent wave of fat-tailed sheep.
This uniqueness is sufficient to justify steps for the conservation of the Omani sheep. If they also prove to be prolific the case is made even stronger but at the moment this claim is doubtful and at the best “not proven”. It is to be hoped that recording will be speedily introduced at Rumais and at Wadi Quryat in order to establish their reproductive performance.
In the meantime crossbreeding should proceed with caution and more attention should be paid to selection within the environment to which these animals are so remarkably adapted.
This breed is described by Epstein (1971) and, since no further information has been obtained, his account is reprinted here.
Jeowicki (1962) estimated that about 1.1 percent of China's 109 million sheep belong to the Hu-yang breed.
“The Hu-yang or Wusih, also called Lake sheep, is bred in the plain of Tai Hu, south of the lower Yangtze Kiang, in the southern part of Kiangsu province and in the adjacent northern part of Chekiang province. This region, which has a warm climate and plentiful supply of water, is intensively used for irrigated crops, mainly rice. There is no pasture land available, and the sheep are penned throughout the year in small sheds at the homesteads of the peasants of the agricultural communes. In spring and summer they are fed on vegetable offal and grass cut at the borders of the fields; in autumn and winter their feed consists of water plants, sweet potatoes, dried mulberry leaves and a little rice bran.
“A small flock of these sheep was exhibited at the London Zoological Gardens in 1855 and the following years. Since they were presented by the British Vice-Consul at Shanghai and also shipped from that port, they were referred to as Shanghai sheep……
“The Hu-yang is a fat-tailed breed, believed to be descended from Mongolian sheep which became differentiated in the new environment in the course of a thousand years or more. Erkes (1954) contended, however, that sheep breeding south of the Yangtze Kiang is relatively recent.
“Adult rams weigh 35–60 kg, and ewes 30–45 kg. Balezin (1959) recorded the following average measurements of adult Hu-yang rams and ewes with mean live weights of 39.8 kg and 37.7 kg respectively at Wutsin (Changchow): height at withers: rams 66.6 cm; ewes 64.4 cm ………………..
“The Hu-yang has a long, slender head, with a convex profile and narrow semi-pendulous ears; some animals are practically devoid of external ears……. Both rams and ewes are polled. The neck, body and legs are long and rather poorly muscled. The tail is short, with a small triangular fat deposit in the upper part, which does not extend to the buttocks, and a thin terminal portion that is usually twisted; in a few animals the tail hangs straight down, but never as low as the hocks. The inner surface of the fat tail is naked, but the extent of the hairlessness varies considerably. The Hu-yang is practically always white without any pigmentation. The wool is carpet type, rather curly and mingled with hair, though of somewhat better quality than that of Mongolian sheep. The fleece is composed of 83.7% wool and 16.3% hair (Balezin, 1959). It is short in staple, because the animals are shorn twice a year. The clip is suitable as filling wools in carpet making (Burns et al., 1940). Fleece weight is approximately 1 kg per clip.
“The fecundity of the Hu-yang is exceptionally high, probably the highest of any sheep breed in the world, including the Romanov. Sexual maturity is reached early in life. The females lamb for the first time at 13-16 months of age. Oestrus is not limited to a season of the year; three lambings in two years are common and even two lambings per year occur. At the first lambing single lambs are the rule; at subsequent lambings twins are usual, triplets and quadruplets frequent, while some ewes have litters of five, or even six lambs. The lambing percentage thus exceeds 200, and the annual birth rate averages 300%. Bartlett (1857) reported: 'I find they breed twice a year, and produce four and sometimes five at a birth, the three ewes now in the Society's Gardens having this spring produced thirteen lambs'.
“At 2 or 3 days of age the lambs have valuable white pelts, light in weight and with lustrous wool curled in beautiful patterns, similar to Karakul pelts ………..”.
It only remains to add that the figures on prolificacy and age and frequency of lambing were confirmed to the author in 1976 when he visited Huashiu commune in Kiangyin county north of Wusih (see Plate 27).
There is another prolific breed in China, the Han-yang, found in hilly areas in Honan and parts of Shansi, Hopeh, Shantung and Kiangsu provinces. This is in the humid continental climatic zone (Da of Köppen) with warm summers and cold winters. Its litter size is only slightly less than that of the Hu-yang which it also resembles in being a fat-tailed wooled breed (Epstein, 1971).
Balezin, P.S., 1959. Zhivotnovodstvo Kitaya. Moscow: Sel'khozgiz. 159 pp.
Bartlett, A.D., 1857. Description of Chinese sheep sent to H.R.H. Prince Albert by Rutherford Alcock, Esq., H.M. Vice-Consul at Shanghai. Presented by H.R.H. to the Zoological Society in April 1855. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 25: 104–107.
Burns, R.H., Bergen, W. von and Young, S.S., 1962. Cashmere and the undercoat of domestic and wild animals. Journal of the Textile Institute, Transactions, 53 (2) : T45–T68.
Epstein, H., 1971. Domestic Animals of China. Farnham Royal, Bucks, England: Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux. 166 pp. + 203 plates.
Erkes, E., 1954. Das Schf in alten China. Asiatica, Leipzig, pp. 82–92.
Jeowicki, S., 1962. [Sheep breeding in the Chinese People's Republic] Postpy Nauk Rolniczyh, 9 (3) : 123–132. (In Polish). (Abstract in Animal Breeding Abstracts, 32: No. 2995).
The only available reference to this breed is in a short article by N.A. Kalinovskaya (1962) in Ovtsevodstvo, 8 (11) : 39.
A complete translation follows:
“Prolific mountain sheep - the Svanka. It is necessary to draw the attention of scientists to a breed of sheep on which one cannot find any information in the literature. I refer to the sheep of Svanetia, called Svanka. The characteristics of these animals are as follows: they are relatively small and have a flat, wide, fat tail, which narrows to an S-bend. Adults weigh 35-40 kg and one-year-old animals weigh up to 20 kg. These sheep are spread over the high and low parts of Svanetia in the Georgian SSR. The territory of Svanetia is circled with high mountains and there is only one connection through a dirt road, which connects Svanetia with Abkhasia. The paths through the Central Caucasian pass lead to the high mountain springs of the river Baksan. The local population of Baksan also has this type of sheep.
“The Svanka breed is very prolific. The ewe gives birth to 2–4 or more lambs at a time twice a year. According to our observations the weight of a newborn lamb is 1–3.5 kg, depending on the litter size. These lambs grow very quickly. I had three Svanka ewes which were mated with a Merino ram. As a rule the F1 crossbred ewe gives birth to five lambs (sici). The wool of the Svanka is short and coarse but the crossbred has wool of Merino type. The F1 crossbred is heavier; it has a robust appearance and heavier fleece.”
“The mass breeding of the Svanka is faced with some difficulties because ewes give birth at different times of the year and this leads to continuous production of lambs. But by controlled mating it is possible to restrict the births to six months of the year.
“The fleece of the Svanka is usually dark in colour, but there are some sheep with a pale colour. The average wool clip is 2–4.5 kg per year.”
“We decided to draw the attention of sheep breeders to this interesting breed in order to stimulate a systematic study of them in Svanetia as well as in neighbouring regions.”
According to Turner (1978, personal communication) the neighbouring Imeritinskaya (Imeritian or Imretty) breed also has a high litter size.
The Chios breed of Greece is one of the most prolific in the world. It has an average litter size of 2.3 lambs Also it lives in a Mediterranean environment which is classified as subtropical. Therefore it merits inclusion in this report. However it has already been described in two other reports of this project namely “Declining breeds of Mediterranean sheep” by C.H. Brooke and M.L. Ryder and, under its Turkish name of Sakiz, in “Sheep breeds of Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey” by B.C. Yalçin. Therefore no further description will be included here.
The same applies to some other island breeds in Greece which, while not reaching the figure for the Chios, do average 1.8 lambs per birth and therefore meet the criterion specified in the introduction. These are the Zakynthos (Plates 28 and 29), the Skopelos, and the Kymi of Euboea (Plates 30 and 31). They are all highly fertile and good milkers but numbers of each are low (a few hundred or a few thousand) and are declining. They have been described in the report by Brooke and Ryder (1978).
Recommendations for the conservation of these breeds are given in Section 5.3.