Tunis : The Tunis breed originated in Tunisia and is reputed to be more than 3000 years old. Referred to as fat-tailed sheep in the Bible, the tail is now smaller but mature ewes still carry the distinctive tail fat the breed is known for. The color ranges from tan to red with the occasional white spot on the head and haunches.
A favorite breed among our founding fathers, John Adams mentioned the breed in his diary in 1782 noting its exceptional taste. Thomas Jefferson ordered a herd be imported from Tunisia because he loved them so much he thought they should be more readily available. George Washington bred them--one of his early legacies was the proliferation of his particular Tunis crossbreed on farms and dinner tables along the east coast. The Tunis is an excellent ambassador breed for the grass-fed movement yet still remains on the Livestock Conservancy’s Conservation Priority List.
Origin : Spain
Navajo-Churro : The Churro was brought to the Americas in the 1500s by the Spanish. The earliest domesticated livestock in the New World, it quickly became integrated in native culture and cuisine. The Navajo-Churro produces excellent wool and meat. It was Navajo women who owned the sheep, the grazing rights and the wool, which was an important source of income.
The Navajo-Churro existed in great numbers until the 1860s when the United States government targeted their populations while at war with the Navajo. The breed is listed as Threatened by the Livestock Conservancy.
Origin : England
Dorset Horn : The Dorset Horn is a breed of sheep that spread over Dorset, Somerset, Devon, and most of Wales during the 1700s. Once popular with English aristocracy, the Dorset Horn has seen a steady decrease in population since the inception of industrialized agriculture. Dorsets tolerate heat well-- heat tolerance contributes to the rams’ ability to breed earlier in the season than rams of other breeds. The Dorset Horn is able to give birth three times in two years, which contributes to the Dorsets profitability and appeal for farmers who are familiar with heritage breeds.
Origin : United States
Katahdin : The Katahdin is unique in that it is a hair sheep and lacks the traditional coat of wool that lamb are associated with. Wool production takes time and energy from both the animals and the farmers while only providing 10 percent of the farmer’s income. In addition wool production can create a more pungent and muttony taste in the meat. Katahdins are favored by many farmers for their low maintenance and prized by chefs for their bright and clean taste. The Katahdin breed was first developed by Michael Piel of Abbott, Maine. It is an ideal breed for grass-fed systems and serves land conservation projects well.