Exotic Sheep breeds are mainly brought to India to improve the Wool quality and quantity, along with increase mutton production by crossing with local sheep. In most of the cases, the exotic breeds are performing fairly well than crossbreeds. Most of the breeders are raising exotic sheep breeds as local breeds, they are accustomed well to Indian conditions.
Exotic Breeds of Sheep in India are mainly classified into
- Fine Wool Breeds
- Mutton Breeds
- Dual-purpose Breeds
- Pelt Breeds
Fine Wool Breeds
The fine wool breeds produce fine and crimpy wool. Their fleece is heavy, dense, and of good quality. Of the exotic fine wool breeds imported in India, Rambouillet and Merinos have done relatively better as purebreds. Their crosses with the indigenous breeds, however, have not shown any difference in wool production and quality.
1. Merino: The word Merino is derived from an early day royal officer of Spain, called the Merino, whose duty was to assign the various migratory flocks of the country to their respective grazing grounds.
The origin of most fine wooled breeds traces to the Spanish Merino type. Selection within the Merino group has resulted in a large variety of breeds and strains. In addition, the Merino has been widely used in the development of many other crossbred wool breeds.
The Merino is a thin tailed, fine wooled breed that favors the aridity of the environment. Because of their banding instinct, they are easy to herd. They are good grazers and are able to forage over large areas of poor grasslands.
Merinos in general have strong constitutions and are noted for hardiness and longevity. Their face and legs are white and the skin is pink. Rams mostly have
heavy spiral horns, whereas the ewes are polled. The head and legs are generally covered by wool. They have long been bred for wool. production and do not carry the straight line and compactness of the mutton breeds.
Mature rams weigh some 75 kg and the ewes 65 kg. Ram’s height is about 70 cm and that of ewes 60 cm.
Fleece yield varies widely depending on environmental conditions and time of breeding but averages 4.5 kg for rams and 3.4 kg for ewes. The staple length is 5-10 cm.
The Merino tends to be a seasonal breeder and this limitation results in general low prolificacy and poor lamb drop. India has imported Soviet Merinos from the USSR which are of Stavropol and Grozny strains. These have more grease in the fleece, larger skin folds, and close face or a larger quantity of wool on the face resulting in coverage of the eyes which are not desirable characters.
Australian Merinos have been selected against these characters. They have lesser grease in the fleece, smaller skin folds, and have an open face. However, because of the ban on export India has not been able to import Australian Merinos.
2. Rambouillet: The Rambouillet is a descendant of the old Spanish Merino. It was developed as a breed in France.
There are two types of Rambouillets, determined by the skin folds.
The B-type has lost much of its popularity and has largely disappeared. The C-type consistently improved for both meat and fleece is enjoying the greatest popularity. Modern Rombouilleis are large, rugged, fast-growing sheep.
They are almost free from skin folds, of acceptable mutton conformation although not equal to the mutton breeds, and are good wool producers. The wool is of long-staple, fair density, uniformity, and moderate shrinkage. The rams may have large spiral horns or are polled. The ewes are polled. They have large heads with white hair around the nose and ears. The face and legs are white, the skin is pink. The ewes are good mothers, quite prolific, and are unequaled for range qualities.
Mature rams in good condition and full fleece weigh from 100 to 125 kg and ewes from 60 to 90 kg. India has imported the majority of Rambouillet from Texas (USA). The Rambouillet as purebreds and in crosses with Indian breeds have generally performed better than Russian Merinos.
3. Polworth: The Polworth breed originated at Tamdwamcoort in Victoria. It was evolved by mating first cross Lincoln Merino ewes with Merino rams. The come back progeny of this mating was interbred and eventually, the Polworth breed was established.
The animals resemble a plain bodied, extra-long-stapled wool, Merino. They have a fairly level frame, clear eyes, soft face, pink nose but sometimes mottled, and are free from skin folds. They may be horned or polled.
Although the animals are bulky in appearance, yet they are neat and have symmetrical lines. Their fleece is of even quality, of about 58s count and the average length of the staple is not less than 10 cm. The value of the fleece runs very close to Merino. They produce mutton of the most desirable quality.
Specialized mutton breeds that mature fast, have high prolificacy, higher body weight gains, high feed conversion, high carcass yield, and produce good quality mutton, have been developed. These are generally maintained under more intensive management, unlike the apparel wool sheep. India has from time to time imported these mutton sheep breeds mostly from the UK and other countries to improve mutton production in indigenous breeds. Read also 10 Most Popular Sheep Breeds raised for Meat.
1. Suffolk: Suffolk was developed in Suffolk, Essex, and Norfolk countries in south-eastern England. The breed originated by the mating of the Norfolk an old native strain with the rams of dark-faced Southdown breed. They have straight legs and are of large size.
Its very black face, ears, and legs are the commanding characteristics. The head and ears are entirely free from wool and black hair extends to a line on the back of the base of the ears. There is no wool below the knees and hocks. The breed is also noted for its alertness and activity. Both rams and ewes are polled although the males frequently have scuts.
The fleece is moderately short, dense, and fine with 56s or 58s counts. The greasy wool yield is 2.75 to 3.25 kg annually.
The Suffolk breed is the first and the foremost mutton breed. The carcass is full of lean meat evenly marbled and with no waste fat and the flavor is excellent.
The mature rams in good condition weigh from 100 to 135 kg and ewes from 70 to 100 kg. The ewes are very prolific and excellent milkers. Suffolks imported in India have performed relatively poorly as producers, especially in reproduction, than Dorsets.
2. Dorset: The origin of the Dorest is clouded in obscurity, but it is well known that they developed largely through selection. The breed is native to southern England, especially to the countries of Dorset and Somerset.
There are homed and polled strains of Dorsets named Dorset Horn and Polled Horn, and except for the presence or absence of horns both are identical. In the homed strain, both the rams and ewes are homed. The typical Dorset animals are of medium size having medium size head, fairly long, clean, and full muzzle, well set on a short and strong neck. The face, ears, and legs are white in color and practically free from wool. The ears are of medium size, thin, silky, and carried well forward. The nostrils, lips, and skin are pink. The hooves are while.
They produce a carcass of medium weight, fine-boned, and of superior quality meat. The weight of fleece is 2.75 to 3.25 kg and the wool is short, close, fine in the texture of 52s to 58s quality.
A mature ram in good condition weighs 80 to 110 kg and ewe from 50 to 80 kg. The lambs weigh about 18 to 22 kg at 4 months, and 30 to 35 kg at 9 months of age. The breed is prolific. It is hardy and is capable of doing well under most conditions.
3. Southdown: Southdown Chalk hills of Sussex in extreme south-eastern England is the native place of this breed.
They have unexcelled mutton conformation. The animals are low set, compact, wide, and deep with legs set wide apart and have a broad head with a wool cap that comes just below the eyes. The face, ears, and legs are mouse-colored or light brown and the skin is bright pink. The breed is polled although scurs are sometimes found on rams. The eyes are large, bright, and prominent, and the ears are of medium size and covered with short wool. The ewes are not too prolific and are only average milkers.
The Southdown breed is early maturing. The fleece is short, close, fairly dense, and of fine quality. The annual greasy fleece weight is around 2.25 to 3.25 kg.
Mature rams in good condition weigh about 80 to 100 kg and ewes about 55 to 70 kg. The lambs weigh about 15 kg at 3 months, 22 kg at 6 months, and 27 kg at9 months age. The average lambing percentage is 130.
Corriedale is the only important imported dual-purpose breed imported in India. The dual-purpose breeds combine meat production quality with wool production qualities.
1. Corriedale: The Corriedale breed had originated in NewZealand where both mutton and wool production is sought. The development of the Corriedale was an effort to develop a dual-purpose type of sheep. Lincoln and Leicester rams were crossed with Merino ewes. By interbreeding and careful selection, a uniform type was established that produced a good balance of mutton and wool.
These sheep were named after the Corriedale estate of Otago where the experimental crossbreeding was done. The animals inherited a good mutton confirmation from its long wool ancestors and derived a dense fleece of good quality from its Merino parentage.
Mature rams in good condition weigh 80 to 110 kg and ewes from 55 to 85 kg. On average, they produce 4.5 to 5.5 kg of greasy wool annually. The wool is generally of 56s to 58s quality with 24.95 to 27.84-micron fiber diameter, is noted for exceptional length, brightness, softness, and for a very distinct crimp.
Corriedales are outstanding for their efficiency. They produce more kg of lamb and wool per kg of body weight than other range breeds. The face, ears, and legs of these animals are covered with white hair, although black spots are .sometimes present. Both sexes are polled, although rams sometimes have horns.
The ewes are considered fair in prolificacy and milking ability. In India, Corriedale has mostly been imported from Australia.
Pelt sheep are maintained for their lamb pelts which are used for garments. They are generally of poor mutton quality and the fleece from the mature animals are of coarse carpet type and thus of relatively lower value. Karakul is the chief pelt type breed.
1. Karakul: Karakulisbredprimarilybecauseofthesuitabilityofthe lamb pelts for fur garment manufacture.
The majority of Karakul lamb skins are produced in Bokhara (USSR), Afghanistan, South-West Africa, Bessarabia, Shiraz (Iran), Baghdad, and Salzfelle (Iraq). The best grade lamb skins come from Bokhara, the country where sheep is a fat-tailed, coarse carpet wool type breed.
It is very well adapted to extreme climatic conditions and sparse vegetation resources. The Iamb pelts are produced through the slaughtering of lambs within 24 to 48 hours of birth. The quality of pells is determined by the ornaments, i.e. type of curls, size, and tightness of curls, luster, and weight of the pelt.
The mature Karakul animals are angular, upstanding, and of very poor mutton type conformation. The rams have horns, but the ewes are polled. Rams weigh about 90 kg and ewes about 65 kg on an average. The face ears and legs are black or brown. The ears ate drooping.
In India, lamb pelts are in good demand in Jammu & Kashmir for conversion into various products like caps, collars, ladies and children coats, and other garments not only for die tourist and elite markets in the country but also for export.
The Karakuls were first imported in 1975 by India. Their performance was studied under the hot arid conditions at Bikaner (Rajasthan) and cold arid conditions at Kumbhathong, Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir. They have done well under both purebred as well as in the crossbreeding program undertaken by taking three indigenous breeds, viz. Malpura, Sonadi, and Marwari.
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