The basics of the Persian breed

This indigenous fat-rumped meat breed does well in arid semi-desert, savanna bushveld and coastal spekboom veld. The lambs mature early.

The Blackhead Persian is a small, smooth-haired, fat-rumped sheep breed.
Photo: Adobe Stock

Of Somalian/Saudi-Arabian origin, the ancestors of the Blackhead Persian were introduced to South Africa by chance in 1869 when a ship damaged by a storm at sea landed here.

It had been carrying one ram and three ewes, and the animals were taken to Wellington, where they became the nucleus of the breed in that country.

The first group of Persian sheep in the Cape had black heads, but produced some progeny with red heads. In 1930, the Persian (Blackhead) Sheep Breeders’ Society of South Africa was formed, with headquarters in Cape Town. In 1948, the present Blackhead Persian Sheep Breeders’ Society of South Africa was formed in De Aar.

Description
The Persian is a small, smooth-haired, fat-rumped breed with three varieties: the Blackhead Persian, the Redhead Persian, and the Speckled (Skilder) Persian, which can be black or brown with white spots covering the body.

The coat colour is basically white with a second colour, usually light to dark brown, superimposed on it. Some are roan owing to an admixture of bright brown hair.

The sheep have long, goat-like ears and both sexes are polled.

Production norms
Persian lambs reach maturity at an early age and thus also put on fat early. The fatty tail is used in venison products such as dry wors and processed meats.

The skin of the Blackhead Persian is remarkably thin and tough, making it suitable for the manufacturing of leather gloves.

Rams have an average birthweight of 2,6kg, while ewes weigh on average 2,55kg at birth. Mature weights are 68kg and 52kg for rams and ewes respectively.

The Blackhead Persian is one of the parent breeds of the well-known Dorper breed. It also played a role in the upgrading of the Karakul.

Source: Snyman, MA. 2014. ‘South African sheep breeds: Persian sheep’. Info-pack ref. 2014/026, Grootfontein Agricultural Development Institute.