Fat-tailed Sheep

The Damara

The Damara is a breed of fat-tail sheep indigenous to North Africa, East Asia and Egypt. They are long and lean and could easily be mistaken for goats. They are a very old breed and have been around since 3000BC. The Hamites were the first to have this breed which then found its way down to Namibia and Angola. From that time, it was virtually no intermingling with other breeds and it remained unchanged for many years. It comes in all colours but its main distinction is the wedge-shaped tail.

Fat from a fat-tailed sheep
Credit: Wikimedia

The Damara survives in the most extreme of climates and the harshest of environments. It does not need shearing, crutching or clipping in any way as its 'fleece' is actually hair. The hair is short although young animals start off with longer hair which is more like wool. As they age, the fleece loses its wooliness. In winter, the sheep develops a fine layer of cashmere type wool. The skin in pigmented and the hair may be any combination of brown, red, black or white. The attractive patterning makes the hides quite valuable.

Because they are so lean and have long legs, they have no trouble travelling to reach food and water. Livestock breeds which evolved in arid areas typically have a lean, long body and long legs. They are resistant to parasites and disease. They cope well with hot weather and limited water and have now established themselves in Australian habitats because of these factors. They can subsist on 65% of browse but have excellent growth rates on good pasture. Like goats, they are useful in clearing areas of scrub and weeds. They are not so inclined to roam like goats or British breed sheep. They instinctively herd together and are thus easier to handle and drive than some breeds. They act together to protect young stock and are very good mothers. It is most unlikely that a Damara ewe would reject her lamb(s). The herding characteristic continues in crossbred animals.

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The Damara is a large meat sheep. It is deep in the body and has long legs. The meat is marbled but not excessively fat. This type of meat is healthier for people who have problems keeping their cholesterol within reasonable limits. Most of the body fat is stored in the wedge-shaped tail. The tail is wider at the top and narrows below the hock. Visible fat deposits can be seen in the tail and on the rear of the rump.

Damara rams have a convex profile (Roman nose) and well developed spiral horns. The dewlap extends from beneath the chin and down the throat. The ewe may have horns but is finer and the nose is less convex.

The Damara came to Australia in 1996 and has adapted well to most areas. It has been a success in the pastoral areas and is admirably suited to fill the demand from the Middle East for live sheep exports. The breed is also found in New Zealand and Canada and their popularity is growing as their favourable characteristics become better recognised.