What are Awassi sheep used for?

A robust and vigorous, medium-sized milk and mutton style sheep, the unproven Awassi. The improved form of dairy is larger than the ordinary Awassi and more refined. The size and weight of the fat tail influence the body proportions, which creates the impression of a lack of balance between fore- and hindquarters. This impression is reinforced by the large udder in Ewes. The wax height reported for the Awassi sheep of Iraq, Palestine and the Syrian Arab Republic varies from 68 to 80 cm for adult rams and from 65 to 70 cm for ewes, and from 62 to 72 cm for rams and from 58 to 67 cm for ewes. The weight of unproven adult Awassi rams ranges between 60 and 90 kg across the breed spectrum, and between 30 and 50 kg for ewes (Mason, 1967). During the Second World War, the author defined an average weight of 42 kg for several thousand Awassi ewes purged for slaughter in Transjordan, the Syrian Arab Republic and Iraq. The weight of dairy ewes ranges from 60 to 70 kg in improved Awassi, while that of rams can exceed 100 kg.

The Awassi head is long and narrow, and its profile is convex. The convex line of the profile can be broken by a small indentation between the forehead and the markedly curved nasal portion of the head in adult, strongly horned rams. The ears are pendulum-shaped, about 15 cm long and 9 cm high. The auricula is rarely rudimentary or completely absent. Rams almost always have horns. With the tips directed outward, the horns, which are 40-60 cm long and heavily wrinkled, curve backward and downward. Awassi rams with up to six horns are occasionally encountered in Bedouin flocks in the Syrian Arab Republic and Iraq; such horns exhibit a high degree of variability and lack symmetry in form and direction. Ewes are regularly surveyed; about 10 percent have poorly formed rudimentary horns in Turkey, while the number of such ewes may rise to 25 percent in other countries. Approximately 80 percent of the ewes in Awassi dairy flocks in Israel have small, frail and shapeless scurs, around 3-8 cm long, partly covered by hair curls. In Awassi ewes, completely grown, 10- to 15-cm-long horns are unusual. The neck is relatively long, with frequent lappets. The chest, with a slim, thin dewlap and prominent brisket, is also long but only moderate in depth and width. Narrowness at heart is a common weakness in unimproved flocks. The back is long and straight, with a relatively wide anterior part of the rump and almost level with the back, but with a slope to the fat tail, the rump is short. The barrel is wide and deep. The legs are of medium length and thickness; not as short and robust as those of the United Kingdom’s early maturing mutton breeds, nor as long and thin as the thin-tailed sheep legs of West Africa’s savanna region. Typically, they are well placed, with powerful pasterns and durable hoofs.

The Sheep of Awassi

Awassi sheep and desert goats of the Bedouin flock

The large and relatively short fat tail usually ends above the hocks, extending below them more rarely. In the milking process, long fat tails present an obstacle. The average length of the fat tail for adult Iraqi Awassi rams is close to 30 cm and its width is 25 cm; the average length for ewes is 18 cm and the width is 15-16 cm. The fat tail can weigh as much as 12 kg in rams and up to 6 kg in ewes; it may exceed 8 kg in heavy male lambs. The tail weighs about 70 g without the fat cushions. From the lower part of the rump with the same width as the thurls, the main portion of the tail emerges and hangs down in two lobes separated by the caudal skeleton and free of hair or wool on the under-surface. In the middle of the lower part, the lobes are not connected, but are divided by a deep notch that gives a heart-shaped appearance to the underside of the tail. The tail skeleton turns upward slightly above the notch to emerge from the fat moi-eties, creating a hairy tassel of variable length hanging down from the upturned tail skeleton.

The udder and teats are of variable form with various faults in unimproved Awassi ewes. In certain species, the udder is pendulous, reaching down as low as the heels sometimes, or it can have the appearance of two bottles or sausages with a deep indentation between the two halves. The teats are often very thin, with either a downward, lateral or upward direction, or they may project, making milking difficult not from the bottom of the udder but from the outer sides. The udder is normally well-attached in ewes of improved milk form, of moderate depth, not pendulous but of globular shape, wide between the legs, elongated anteriorly and extending well to the rear. The teats have a fair length and thickness, with a course downwards.

Awassi’s skin is moderately thin, elastic, unpigmented and highly sensitive. It loses its fineness in aged animals and becomes thicker and coarser. The neck or body does not have folds, but a thin dewlap spreads from the throat down to the brisket.

The head and ears of the adult Awassi are covered by short, stiff hair and wool on the top, sides of the body and the back of the fat tail. Awassi sheep have a whole body, including the throat, often covered with wool, up to the age of 12-15 months. The wool later falls into the throat in the vast majority, and the neck often becomes short-haired in many species, except for its top ridge. In the ram, from the throat along the dewlap to the lower part of the brisket, a fringe of longer and coarser wool extends. In young lambs, wool develops on the stomach; this is replaced by fairly long, coarse fur as the animal grows older. The forelegs are generally thick-haired, while the hind-legs can also be woolless or loosely covered down to the hocks, often as far down as the fetlocks, with short wool more rarely.

In general, due to the low wool follicle density and the small surface area covered with wool fibres, Awassi sheep have a light fleece (Shara-feldin, 1965). Mason (1967) gives an average annual fleece weight for rams of 2.0-2.5 kg and 1.75 kg for ewes. The fleece weighs 2.6-3.0 kg for improved Awassi ewes, and 4.35 kg on average for rams. A ram had a fleece weight of 6.8 kg and a ewe was 6.5 kg in a flock chosen for heavier fleeces. A ram of an improved Awassi flock produced 9.96 kg of wool a year in the Syrian Arab Republic (Gadzhiev, 1968). Dry females produce heavier fleeces than lactating ewes, and the overall annual wool production is increased by two shearings each year compared with one shearing (Al-Aubaidi et al., 1968). Usually, the Awassi wool is white with a yellowish hue. The head, the ears and the anterior part of the neck are tan, while the legs may be brown in whole or in part. Some creatures have a white blaze on their face. After first shearing, lambs born with a light-brown full-color or spotted coat sometimes develop white fleeces. The Awassi hoofs are dark brown.

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