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Sudan desert sheep: Their origin, ecology and production potential

Ecological habitat
Distinctive features
Problems facing the sheep industry in the semi-arid zone
Husbandry methods
Breeding policy
Production performance
Productive life of ewes and rams
Carcass characteristics and feedlot performance
The role of desert sheep in foreign and domestic trade

Mohamed E. Mufarrih

The author is Under-Secretary, Ministry of Animal Resources, PO Box 293, Khartoum, the Sudan

This article traces the obscure origin of the Sudan Desert sheep, a valuable meat and milk producer which has been owned for centuries by nomadic Arab tribes in northern Sudan. Its meat is greatly preferred by local consumers and is exported mostly to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as well as to other Near East oil-producing countries, thereby contributing to the Sudan's export earnings. However, its potential for high production of both meat and milk is hampered by seasonal shortages of water and grazing and prevalence of disease.

The Sudan Desert sheep is one of the leading mutton and milk-producing types in the tropics (Tothill, 1948) but its importance is little known due to lack of publicity. They comprise more than 60 percent of the sheep population of the Sudan and almost 100 percent of its sheep exports. Together with their cross progeny, the Watish and Baggara types, they supply approximately 9095 percent of the slaughter sheep in the northern regions of the country.


Sudan Desert sheep are reared strictly within the semi-desert belt of the Sudan, in association with camels. They are owned exclusively by nomadic tribes of Arab origin or others closely related to them in the region. Because of their nomadic existence their origin has been difficult to trace.

Mason (1951) has classified West African livestock and suggested the possible ancestry of sheep breeds or types in the region. Davidson (1959) stated that no well-known people in West Africa are without their legends of remote eastern or North African origins, and he suggested that these people might have maintained their individual breeding stocks intact.

It is well established that nomadic Arab tribes entered the Sudan through the west and northwestern borders via northern Chad or the southern Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, reaching their ultimate destination at the River Nile (Churchill, 1899). Although some individual tribes might have remained for many years in the Sultanates of Waddai, Gimir, Masalat, Borno and Fur, their sheep do not resemble the Asian or North African types.

This Arab type of sheep, presumably owned by these tribes, with its woolly coat and short legs, could not have endured the stress of intensive solar radiation and prolonged migration in search of grazing and water or sudden attacks by the enemy. To obtain an animal which would satisfy these requirements, while retaining the desirable characteristics of their original sheep, these Arab tribes might have decided to cross-breed their sheep with other types which possessed the required traits.

In the Lake Chad basin and further north live the northern Fulani tribes, the Balami, whose sheep are uniformly white, and the Auda, whose sheep are white with a brown or black neck and front body. Both breeds have a large frame, long legs and long, thin tails. The Arab tribes, during their east and southeast migration, most likely associated with the Fulani tribes and crossbred their own sheep with the Balami and Auda desert types. This breeding operation might have been exercised and maintained in mutual accord, producing through selection the desirable characteristics which eventually stabilized in the appearance of the unique Sudan Desert sheep.

Although this is the author's personal assumption, it would seem to be the most logical explanation for the appearance of this type of sheep. The assumption is supported by the fact that Fulani sheep are most likely the long-legged and long-tailed sheep (Williamson and Payne, 1965) reported to have been forced out of Egypt by the later entry of fat-tailed and coarse-woolled sheep.

It is worth mentioning that Sudan Desert sheep and Fulani sheep undergo similar methods of management and exist in a similar ecological habitat. Many of their body features, such as the shape of the head and face, length of body and texture of coat, are similar. Sudan Desert sheep, however, possess a thicker tail and fuller rump. These valuable characteristics might be attributed to partial inheritance from their Asian ancestors.

Ecological habitat

Sudan Desert sheep are strictly confined to the semiarid climatic zone. Their homeland is roughly bound in the south by latitude 12°N, although this southern border has recently retreated further south due to the southward advance of the desert. The western border is marked by the range of rocky hills from Jebel Marra in the south to the Zaghawa plateau in the north. To the east the area extends to the Red Sea hills. To the north it fades away with an undulating border in the Nubian desert.

Topographically this area is dominated by sandy plains and stabilized sand dunes in the west, extensive plains of dark cracked soil in the centre and a strip of sandy plains with stabilized sand dunes in the east. A few sparse flocks of smaller animals with the features of Sudan Desert sheep can be encountered in the Red Sea hills and on the coastal plains.

This area undergoes very intensive solar radiation from March to the end of June and has a mild, moist temperature from July to the end of October. In winter, from November to February, the temperature is mild during the day and cold at night. The coastal ranges of the Red Sea receive winter showers which stimulate green grazing which varies according to the amount of rainfall. Occasionally this coastal area suffers complete drought for two or more successive years when only hardy camels and goats can survive. In the main desert sheep land, the rainfall varies from 75 mm in the far north to 400 mm in the south.

The vegetation varies from a mixture of grasses and herbs with no woody vegetation whatsoever, to a scattering of scrub bush interspersed with bare areas.

Distinctive features

The most distinctive features of this sheep are the shape of the head, face and tail, and posture. The forehead is convex and slopes downward into a Roman nose. The ears are rather large and flabby. The neck is long and thin in ewes and wethers; in rams the neck is rather thick, with a thin dewlap extending from chin to brisket. The coat is hairy and of varying colours, which indicate the tribal ownership or locality and particular variety of animals. All females and most males are polled. Some males, however, have horns varying from bud size to very large, resembling those of Fulani Balami and Auda rams. The length and shape of the tail of the pure Sudan Desert type differs from its cross progenies and other types of sheep in the country. It has a wide base which hides the female genital organs and thins down gradually toward the tip which droops well below the hocks. In healthy sheep, the tail carries much fat which is evenly dispersed down both sides.

Sudan Desert sheep are generally described as long-legged. The length of the legs is due to management and climate. In the northern ranges where the scarcity of grazing imposes walking long distances, the sheep have developed longer legs and a light body. The sheep of the southern regions (such as the Hamari variety), have shorter legs and a heavy body, for here range grazing and drinking water are abundant, grazing distance is small and the seasonal migration range is comparatively short.

The locality and tribal origin of Desert sheep are identified in local markets by their colours. In the central and southeastern part of the irrigated Gezira and Rahad, the sheep population is dominated by the Dubasi variety. These carry a black patch on the back (saddle), the muzzle and legs. The rest of the coat is white with coarse hairy fibres. Further north toward Khartoum, on the eastern bank of the Blue Nile and the Nile, the Shugur variety predominates. These are uniformly yellowish brown. The Hamari variety in southwestern Kordofan and southeastern Darfur are predominantly brown and dark brown. The Kabashi of Northern Kordofan and Northern Darfur, the Shambali of eastern Kordofan, the Gash and eastern Butana are all multicoloured.

The different colours of tribal varieties might have been brought about through prolonged selection toward colours preferred by particular groups or tribes because it is doubtful whether these experienced herdsman would have been aware of any possible relation between colour and productivity. As the sheep fibres are utilized in nomadic home industry for weaving carpets and nomadic tents, the colour preference of the weaver might have played a vital role in this respect.

The estimated total number of Sudan Desert sheep and the distribution of the main varieties for 1980-81 are given in Table 1. All estimates made during or after the 1982-85 drought period should be treated with the utmost reservation as large numbers of cattle and sheep in all the northern regions of the country were lost as a result of starvation or sale. Since then no comprehensive overall survey has been conducted to give acceptable estimates for the present population, despite the fact that a very high lambing rate and low mortality were reported during the post-drought period from all northern regions.

Problems facing the sheep industry in the semi-arid zone

The sheep industry in the semi-arid areas of the Sudan has been hampered by water shortage, complicated grazing problems and a prevalence of disease and parasites. In recent years these areas have experienced successive periods of drought and considerable areas of grazing land have been partially decertified and migratory herds of camels and sheep have penetrated into the savannah belt for dry season grazing. In the centre of the semi-arid belt in the eastern and central regions and Southern Kordofan, expanding crop farming has encroached upon a large area of grazing land resulting in the expulsion of thousands of livestock.

The most critical period for range sheep in the semiarid zone of the Sudan is from February to the end of June, when the ambient temperature becomes hot and dry and range grazing is scanty and depleted of nutrients and vitamins.

Migratory sheep flocks spend the dry season near watering yards called "damar". During winter months, when the ambient temperature is mild and the range contains some green fodder, herders can extend the watering intervals from ten to 15 days. After winter, grazing and climatic conditions become harsh and the watering interval is reduced to between three and five days.

In the central and eastern regions, where vast are-as of traditional grazing land have been converted into crop farms, many nomadic families have adapted themselves to a residential or semi-residential existence. Their sheep spend the dry season within or around the cropping areas and sustain themselves on crop residues. Encroachment on farms and damage to crops have caused a series of clashes between farmers and herdsman and security forces have frequently been called in to drive livestock away from the vicinity of farms. Once harvesting is completed, nomadic and residential livestock are allowed to graze crop residues, thus alleviating the feed situation. However, these residues are only able to sustain this large amount of livestock for about three to five weeks. The animals are then forced out so that the land can be prepared for the next cultivation. Most nomadic and semi-nomadic herds move to remote ranges and are sustained on the remnants and stubble of dry vegetation until the rains arrive.

1. Regional population of Sudan Desert sheep and distribution of their varieties in 1980-81

Effectifs de moutons du désert soudanais par région et par type en 1980/81

Población regional de ovejas sudanesas del desierto y distribución de sus variedades en 1980-81


No. sheep




Other colours






331 648






532 645






2 025 252






3 823 905






2 759 124






1 574 154






11 046 728

Source: Animal Resources Economic Administration, Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources

2. Growth rate of lambs of the Dubasi and Shugur varieties at Kuku Animal Research Station during 1986-87

Croissance des agneaux Dubasi et Shugur a la station de recherche Kuku en 1986/87

Ritmo de crecimiento de los corderos de las variedades Dubasi y Shugur en el Centro de Investigaciones Zootécnicas de Kuku durante 1986-87

Male lambs

Female lambs



Average birth weight

single birth



twin birth



Average weaning weight

single birth



twin birth



Average one month

single birth



post-weaning weight

twin birth



Dubasi variety of the Sudan Desert sheep; breeding ram. Note the kinan (device to prevent mating) - Mouton du désert soudanais, de type Dubasi; bélier reproducteur. Remarquer le kinan (dispositif visant a éviter l'accouplement) - Variedad Dubasi de la oveja sudanesa del desierto; carnero reproductor. Obsérvese el kinan (mecanismo pare impedir el apareamiento)

Fulani sheep, Auda type. Suspected half ancestor of the Sudan Desert sheep. Two-year-old wether. Note similarity of features and body structure, but thinner tail - Mouton peul, de type Auda. Serait pour moitié l'ancêtre du mouton du désert soudanais. Mouton castre de deux ans. Remarquer la ressemblance des caractères et de la structure du corps, mais la queue plus mince - Oveja Fulani, tipo Auda. Se supone que es uno de los dos antepasados de la oveja sudanesa del desierto. Carnero de dos años. Obsérvese la analogía de las características y la estructura del cuerpo, pero la cola es mas fine

Kababish and Northern Kordofan variety of the Sudan Desert sheep - good udder indicating high milking capacity - Type Kababish et du nord du Kordofan de mouton du désert soudanais - bonne mamelle indiquant une capacité laitière élevée - Variedad de Kababish y Kordofan septentrional de la oveja sudanesa del desierto. El tamaño de la ubre indica una capacidad lechera elevada

Good milkers of Shugur variety are highly valued by suburban residents for domestic milk supply. This ewe is for sale in Kuku market at Khartoum North - Les brebis bonnes laitières du type Shugur vent très appréciées des habitants des banlieues pour leur production de lait destinée à la consommation familiale. Cette brebis est a vendre au marche Kuku de Khartoum nord - Las buenas ovejas lecheras de la variedad Shugur son muy apreciadas por los residentes de las zonas suburbanas pare el consumo domestico de leche. Esta oveja esta en venta en el mercado de Kuku, en Jartum Norte

With the advent of early rains, Desert sheep flocks are driven to ranges near their damar locality where fresh grasses and fortes are stimulated by early showers. These early grazings are commonly called "shogara". The sheep recover their body condition very rapidly on shogara grazing and start dropping their rainy season lambs. By mid-July the rains fall heavily and the fresh vegetation reaches abundance level. Mosquitoes and other insect vectors force the sheep flocks to leave the damar localities and start the rainy season migration toward the north, northwest or northeast where the rains fall late and the vegetation is more tender and nutritious.

The Sudan sheep industry is also jeopardized by diseases and most losses can be attributed to helminth parasites. Although the damage inflicted by various parasites varies between localities, nematodes are more serious in the main sheep-raising areas. Nematode infestation flares up at the very end of the dry season and the early onset of rains. Heavy casualties occur among ewes when stomach worm infestation is complicated by anaemia. In the White Nile basin, schistosomiasis and fascioliasis cause great concern.

Tickborne diseases, mainly due to Rickettsia, cause considerable losses, especially in the areas between the two Niles, east of the main Nile, the Butana range, the Gash delta and around the river Atbara. Losses from infectious diseases are caused by sheep pox, pneumonia, and lamb dysentery. Sporadic mortality from anthrax occurs in some areas. Foot-and-mouth disease and bluetongue occur occasionally but they cause negligible losses. Pneumonia coccidia and Oestrus ovis cause considerable losses in sheep subjected to prolonged confinement or prolonged night bedding in one spot.

Sheep health has not been given as much importance as cattle health in the Sudan since the establishment of the Sudan Veterinary Service. This attitude might have been justified in the 1930s and 1940s. when cattle exports constituted the major animal export earnings. However, at the present time and for the foreseeable future, the earnings from sheep exports are far greater.

Husbandry methods

The vast-majority of Sudan Desert sheep exist under migratory range conditions while a few small flocks exist under a semi-residential system. The pattern of management adopted in the whole region is essentially the same. Good sheep health and extraordinary lamb crops add to the pride and prestige of devoted sheep owners. These dedicated sheepmen are aware of the importance of management to promote productivity and they strictly observe correct herding and breeding, and protection from adverse climatic conditions, disease, thieves, predatory animals and birds.

The usual size of a flock in traditional Desert sheep rangelands is 250-500 ewes. It has been realized, however, that larger flocks create herding difficulties and lessen the lambing rate. Herding is usually undertaker) by young men from the owner's family or hired herders on a 12-month basis. The latter (who are supplied with necessary food and clothing) are charged with the care of about 10-12 weaner lambs per year, according to the size of the flock and any additional responsibilities they might be given.

The time of grazing varies between seasons. In dry seasons most of the grazing is done at night. The herders are aware of the benefit of night grazing in lessening water requirement and avoiding the stress of solar heat. They firmly believe in a local saying which states that "the ewe is like a rabbit. When it grazes at night and lies in the shade during the day, it will produce twins and triple lambs." It has been widely recognized that exposure to high ambient temperatures reduces fertility of rams.

In the rainy season the availability of drinking-water and succulent grazing enables sheep to ingest their daily requirement in a few hours. Because of the mild temperature and frequent cloud, the sheep will continue to graze and lie down in the open air until late in the afternoon. Rainy season grazing is restricted to the period from 09.00 hours to about 16.00 hours when the plants are without dew. Diseases such as foot-rot and nematode infestation are known to result from grazing at night or early morning while the grasses are cold and damp.

Sudan Desert sheep, like other range sheep, do not tolerate prolonged confinement. Frequent shiftings of the camp and night bedding ground are always practiced for the animals' well-being. The herder carries a few articles on his donkey, such as a bag of grain flour, a water-skin, cooking and eating utensils and a netting bag. He keeps one or more dogs to protect the sheep from predatory animals at night.

Salt is supplied in sufficient amounts for free-choice nibbling once or twice a week in winter and during the rainy season. During the hot and dry season salting is reduced to a minimum to avoid increased water requirement. Sometimes salt is dissolved in drinking-water so that each individual animal takes in an adequate amount while drinking.

Breeding policy

Sudan Desert sheep tend to breed at certain periods of the year in such a way that lambs are dropped when range fodder is at its best. A few ewes may miss the traditional breeding season and breed in the rainy season to lamb in winter. Some-ewes occasionally divert from these two seasons and breed in late September or October. If allowed to remain in the flock they would lamb during the period of feed and water shortage which lasts from February to May. The off-season ewes are usually identified in early pregnancy and sold for slaughter. To avoid these occurrences, mating is obstructed with the use of a device called a "kinan". This is a double-looped string fixed around the neck of the scrotum and the neck of the ram's sheath to prevent-the penis from emerging. The kinan is released in about mid-December when traditional breeding commences, which lasts for 30 to 45 days.

The flabby base of the ewe's tail hampers immediate mating unless an assistant quickly intervenes by holding the ewe and shifting the tail with his other hand while the ram stands by to mount. In most cases one mount effects successful mating and conception. On the same day that the ewes show heat, they are distributed among the available rams to avoid exhaustion and a decline in fertility of the rams. Two or more additional assistants are assigned to the flock so that the breeding season reaches a successful conclusion. Kinans are refixed on rams immediately after the conclusion of the breeding season. In the southern part of the semi-desert belt where winter grazing can sustain suckling ewes and lambs, kinans are removed from June to August to cover the few ewes that missed the main breeding season.

About 80 percent of ewes drop lambs in June and July except in the central, eastern and Khartoum regions where the lambing season begins a bit later. There are many twinners, triplers and first lambing ewes, and the lambing period, like the breeding season, is followed with great dedication. The sheep are usually grazed close to the camp whenever grazing conditions permit. An additional assistant is assigned to help in delivery, if needed, and to collect dams and lambs dropped at grazing and to bring them to the camp. All young lambs are retained in the camp and guarded and first lambers are kept with their lambs for two or three days to avoid lamb refusal. Orphan lambs and those refused by dams are nursed on ewes which have lost lambs or nanny goats maintained with the sheep for such a purpose.

Eventually the older lambs are herded to nibble on vegetation around the camp. In the late afternoon the flock is turned from grazing and the lambs are allowed to join the dams and stay with them until next morning. At the age of one month the lambs are usually allowed to run continuously with the dams until they are weaned at three months. Some sheep breeders, especially in semi-residential and residential systems, take some of the daytime milk from ewes with single lambs for marketing as fresh milk, or for butter or sour milk-making.

At weaning age the lambs are sorted out for breeding or market stock. Under the semi-residential and residential systems, where the holdings are comparatively small, sheep are marketed at weaning age as entire male lambs. Under the migratory system the males for market are castrated and retained to the age of one to three years to reach the condition and size required by sheep exporters.

Production performance

Under tropical environmental conditions, sheep are raised primarily for meat, although milk is also of importance. The value of the breeding ewe is determined by the quantity and quality of lamb or mutton produced and the length of its productive life.

Field-collected data on the lambing rate of Sudan Desert sheep indicate wide differences between localities presumably attributable to climatic, nutritional and management factors. Personally acquired information on migratory groups in the western Kordofan and eastern Darfur areas indicated a 150-170 percent lambing rate. Wilson (1981) reported the lambing rate for a nomadic flock of Sudan Desert sheep in Southern Darfur province to be 146 percent.

Wide differences in lambing rates also exist among individual flocks under a semi-residential system maintained in irrigated areas. Tanmia, an independent consultant group, in their feasibility study (1977) for the El Waha Animal Production Project about 50 km south of Khartoum, reported that ewes under irrigated pasture and in an open breeding system could lamb three times in two years at a rate of 150 percent each time and they could, therefore, achieve a lambing rate of about 225 percent. Under a residential system at El Huda Sheep Research Station, Suleiman and Eisawi (1984) reported an overall lambing rate of 119 percent and a rate of 125 percept for the Shugur variety alone. This subnormal rate can probably be attributed to the low nutritional level experienced by the sheep for a considerable portion of the year.

The performance of ewes of the Sudan Desert type under an improved residential system in an irrigated area is best represented by a small flock of Dubasi and Shugur varieties in Kuku Animal Research Station. The production record of the flock as obtained from the 1986-87 flock book is given in Table 2. The lambing rate of the flock during this period was 143 percent, which would suggest a promising potential productivity and shows that the Sudan Desert ewe can rear twin lambs to an acceptable weaning weight.

Most nomadic, semi-residential and residential families in the Desert sheep raising areas utilize sheep milk and milk products for home consumption and to earn revenue to supplement their incomes. The Animal Resources Economic Administration of the Ministry of Agriculture in their 1980-81 Annual Report estimated total sheep milk production as 553 591 tonnes during this period. Most of this was produced in areas where Desert sheep dominated. Information obtained from the Khartoum suburban area, where sheep are kept mainly for dairying, indicate a daily yield of 2-2.5 litres for the average ewe. This information agrees closely with Tothill (1948) who reported a 2.3-2.5 litre daily yield. Suleiman and El Tahir (1984) investigated the milking capacity of Dubasi and Shugur ewes at El Huda Sheep Research Station in the Gezira irrigated agricultural scheme. They reported 140.2 litres of milk in 186.3 days for Shugur and 134.1 litres in 189.5 days for Dubasi. They mentioned that the ewes were sustained on dry sorghum straw for some days during the rainy season. It is likely that such poor-quality roughage could have caused a substantial decline in milk yield.

Productive life of ewes and rams

Early puberty and a long productive life of breeding stock are very desirable characteristics. In the open range and migratory system, where more than 80 percent of sheep are maintained, dedicated sheep growers do not allow the milking of suckling ewes before their lambs attain the age of two months and are able to maintain their normal rate of growth on range fodder. Consequently all single and most twin ewe lambs attain puberty at the age of seven months and lamb in their 12th month.

Semi-residential flock of Shugur variety kept near Khartoum City for sale of milk to urban residents. Flocks graze residues of harvested fodder crop and lie on the slopes of irrigation canals - Troupeau semi-sedentaire de moutons Shugur élevés près de Khartoum pour la vente de fait aux habitants de la ville. Les animaux se nourrissent de résidus de récoltes fourragères et vivent sur les pentes des canaux d'irrigation - Rebaño semiestable de la variedad Shugur mantenido cerca de la ciudad de Jartum pare la venta de leche a la población urbana. Los rebaños aprovechan los residuos de las cosechas de forraje y duermen en las laderas de los canales de riego

In the western ranges, during the hot and dry season, sheep spend most of the day under the shade of trees and graze at night - Dans l'ouest, pendant la saison chaude et sèche, les moutons passent la plus grande partie de la journée a l'ombre des arbres et pâturent la nuit - En las praderas occidentales, durante la estación cálida y seca, las ovejas pasan casi todo el día a la sombra de los arboles y pastan de noche

Weaner lambs of mixed tribal varieties at Kuku Animal Research Centre in Khartoum North - Agneaux sevrés de types tribaux mixtes au Centre de recherche sur les animaux Kuku a Khartoum nord - Corderos destetados de variedades tribales mixtas en el Centro de Investigaciones Zootecnicas de Kuku, en Jartúm Norte

3. Sheep exports to Saudi Arabia from 1978 to 1983 and their value in US$

Effectifs et valeur en dollars U.S. des exportations d'ovins (vers l'Arabie saoudite)

Exportaciones de ovejas (a la Arabia Saudita) y su valor en dólares. EE.UU.


No. exported

Value('000 US$)

± No. compared to previous year

± Value compared to previous year(US$)


279 584

22 366




24 115

21 703

-3 843



440 969

36 925

+199 818

+15 211


504 083

48 344

+63 114

+11 419


564 127

64 873

+60 044

+16 529


521 837

58 968

-42 290

-5 905

1 Drought period 1983-85
Source: Research and Information Dept, Livestock and Meat Marketing Corporation

4. Number of slaughter sheep in the Sudan during 1978-82

Effectifs d'ovins abattus au Soudan entre 1978 et 1982 (en milliers)

Numero de ovejas sacrificadas (en miles) en el Sudan durante 1978-1982


Total no. slaughtered

Estimated Desert type




7 516

4 510


6 084

3 650


3 771

2 263


3 794

2 276

1 Sharp decrease of domestic consumption was due to a rapid rise in sheep prices and subsequent shift to beef consumption

Source: Animal Resources Administration, Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Semi-residential and residential flocks in permanent settlements in suburban localities and in irrigated agricultural schemes are milked at earlier lactation for home consumption and the market. Under such conditions age at puberty may extend to ten to 12 months. Ram lambs usually start mating at the age of five months. At the age of five years their sexual vigour declines and they are castrated for marketing.

The useful life of a ewe of the Sudan Desert type is essentially similar to other range sheep. Kammlade and Kammlade (1955) reported that in the western ranges of the United States ewes of fine wool breeds showed advanced wear of teeth at the age of seven years. Ensminger (1955) maintained that the wear of teeth in fine wool sheep started after the age of five years. In the semi-desert ranges of the Sudan ewes can produce lambs and milk satisfactorily to the age of six or seven years. The sorting of gummers and declining bucks is usually conducted at weaning time in October to prepare them for the market.

Carcass characteristics and feedlot performance

The few investigations conducted on carcass characteristics have not identified interaction effects of sex, age and nutritional conditions. Guma and Gaili (1983) reported the carcass composition of a range-fed group of Sudan Desert sheep. The live weights were 32-40 kg, the average warm carcass weighed 14.5 kg, left carcass side 6.7 kg, total side muscle 3.9 kg, total side bone 1.8 kg and total side fat 0.6 kg.

El Shafi (1969) compared carcass characteristics of Sudan Desert sheep, Merino and Desert x Merino crosses. The age of all three groups was for Merino, Desert and their crosses, respectively. The dressing percentage for a warm carcass was 42.2,44.9 and 40.60, carcass shrinkage 5.9,2.8 and 4.3 percent, the eye muscle area (cm) 7.5,7.6 and 8.9, and the specific gravity 1.03, 1.04 and 1.05 for Merino, Desert and their crosses, respectively. The dressing percentage of the three groups was rather low, when compared to the mean of 13 reports of 49.6 and 51.3 percent of ram and wether carcasses of exotic mutton sheep quoted by Field (1971). The difference could be attributable to nutritional factors rather than inherited characteristics.

Hassan and Mukhtar (1970) investigated the feedlot performance of Sudan Desert sheep on high concentrate, medium concentrate and all-roughage rations. The all-roughage ration was good-quality dried berseem (Medicago sativa). The average daily gains were 0.25,0.24 and 0.15 kg for high concentrate, medium concentrate and all-roughage ration groups, respectively. The dressing percentage was 50.6,47.5 and 44.4 respectively. Ellamin and Suleiman (1983) fed a ration of 25 percent sorghum grains and 25 percent cotton seed cakes to weaner lambs of the Sudan Desert type. They obtained 0.24 kg daily gain. The feed conversion efficiency was 5.4 kg feed intake/kg weight gain. Lambs fed this ration dressed higher (42 percent) than those not given this ration (35 percent).

The role of desert sheep in foreign and domestic trade

Sudan Desert sheep are traditionally exported to Arab countries whose preference is for mutton and lamb and whose domestic supplies fall short of demand, especially after the recent boom in oil prices. At present, Sudan Desert sheep enjoy a splendid reputation and are in great demand in these countries. The ULG Consultants (Warwick) in their feasibility study for the Sudanese Kuwaiti Animal Production Company (1975) stated "The Saudi meat market is characterized by a strong preference for mutton, particularly from Desert-type sheep". Regarding the Kuwaiti market, they continued: "The predominant demand is for high-quality lamb, fresh or chilled. Frozen meats are heavily discounted in price. The acceptance of large numbers of Australian sheep in recent years indicates the difficulty of supplying the demand for quality sheep of the Desert type." The Libyan Arab Jamahiriya used to import about 50 000-60 000 sheep annually from Northern Kordofan and the Darfur provinces of the Sudan until diplomatic relations were severed in 1976. Sheep traders in other oil-exporting countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, have made several attempts to import Sudan Desert mutton and lamb but the Saudi market has continued to absorb all Sudanese sheep exports and to offer attractive prices. The number of exported sheep to Saudi Arabia and their gross return during 1978-83 are given in Table 3.

In internal trade, Sudan Desert sheep play an important role in the domestic meat supply. Desert sheep comprise about 60 percent of the slaughter sheep in the northern regions and about 50 percent for the whole of the Sudan. Numbers of slaughter sheep in the official abattoirs from 1978-82 are presented in Table 4.

Old ewes, retired bucks and animals rejected by exporters ate sold to local butchers for local consumption. Watish and Baggara types, which are cross progeny of Sudan Desert with Nilotic types, together with Zaghawa, Auda and a few Nilotic types are progressively replacing the Desert type in domestic consumption.


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Davidson, B. 1959. Old Africa rediscovered, p. 67. London, Victor Gollancz Ltd.

Ellamin, F.M. & Suleiman, A.H. 1983. Feedlot performance and carcass characteristics of Sudan Desert sheep raised under irrigated Gezira conditions. Sudan J. Vet. Sci & Anim. Husb., 24(1): 43-48.

El Shafi, S.A. 1969. Some observations on carcass characteristics of Merino, local and cross of Merino with the local sheep. Sudan J. Vet. Sci. & Anim. Husb., 10(1): 370-381.

Ensminger, M.E. 1955. Sheep husbandry, p. 108-111. Danville, Illinois, The International Printers and Publishers.

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