The Tunis is a visually striking breed which exemplifies many traits found in traditional breeds of livestock. This breed has a long history within the United States; they originally descended from fat-tailed sheep imported from Tunisia, a country on the north west coast of Africa, starting in 1799. These imports were crossed with sheep commonly found on New England farms in the early 1800’s to create the Tunis breed – making it one of the oldest breeds developed in America.
These sheep have beautiful copper colored guard hairs, long pendulous ears and calm, friendly personalities. Tunis are an extremely hardy and heat tolerant breed, allowing them to thrive and produce where many breeds would fail. They have long production lives, often twin and are good mothers. They are also known for the delicate flavor of both lamb and mutton. Read more about SVF Foundation’s partnership with Tamarack Tunis, a Vermont family farm working to make this rare breed available to the consumer market.
The Livestock Conservancy has Tunis listed in the Watch category of their Conservation Priority List, and although the breed has been steadily gaining in popularity in recent years there are certain strains which are not being maintained. These are the more traditional, old-style Tunis which have not been bred specifically for the show ring or lamb production.
SVF first began work with the Tunis breed in 2007 when a flock of 15 ewes were donated by Bill and Helen Mende of Hawk Meadow Farm in Pennsylvania. These ewes were of interest to SVF because of their origins – they are traditional-style Tunis descending from historic flocks which were never bred specifically for wool or lamb production. These sheep are smaller, finer-boned and darker red than most Tunis seen in the show ring or on production farms.
Since rams were needed to go along with the Tunis ewes SVF approached AnnaRae Hodgin of TLH farms in North Carolina. AnnaRae has been a long time supporter of maintaining the traditional style of Tunis and preserving the older genetic lines within the breed. She graciously donated four rams to the SVF program in 2009.
Germplasm collection officially began in 2010 with these calm, beautiful sheep. SVF will be continuing to work with the old style, traditional Tunis for several seasons, please contact us if you are interested in obtaining or providing sheep.