Karakul Sheep

An ancient breed of fat tailed sheep, the Karakul produces fiber and meat which are both excellent for specialty markets. Historically used to produce lamb pelts for the fur trade, they have other uses today.

Traditionally used to produce meat and wool for the production of hand woven carpets, this sheep is still a great choice for small farms. The fat tailed sheep produces lean lamb meat, and the tail is a delicacy in some ethnic cuisine. The sheep were bred to store fat in the tail, because it stores a lighter fat than the lanolin that sheep tend to store in other parts of their body. This lighter fat is used in many old traditional middle eastern and Asian dishes, and can be an important source of rendered fat for self-sufficient farms.

Because they are bred to store excess fat in the tail, the body meat is not high in lanolin, and tends to be lean and flavorful.

Karakul sheep typically produce a single lamb, or twins. The ewes are good mothers, and the sheep are very adaptable to a range of fairly rough conditions. They adapt well to marginal forage, and they have strong flocking instincts which helps protect the young from predators.

A colored sheep, they may be black or red, and the wool fades with the age of the sheep, providing a wider range of colors.

  • Type - meat, fiber
  • Size - medium
  • Production Capacity - not highly prolific, but solid producers in difficult conditions
  • Special Features - fatty tail 
  • Best for Farms - great for ethnic markets, and also excellent for small subsistence farms
  • Eggs, Milk, Meat Features - lean lamb meat with fatty tail
  • Other Products - some market for lamb pelts - they are curly and soft
  • Historic or Contemporary Significance - fat tailed sheep have a long history in some parts of the world, and the tail fat is a healthy type of fat
  • Housing and Space Requirement - typical
  • Regional Adaptations - well adapted to a range of challenging conditions
  • Feed Requirement - typical, but they will produce best with ample browse
  • Other Considerations - Rare in the US, you will likely have to look out of area for Karakul sheep. Be sure to look for the tail that is wider than a standard sheep tail. 



Sheep were not originally on my list for "animals I have to have on my farm", but they have sashayed their way to very near the top for a couple of reasons:

  1. They are easy keepers except for some parasite issues.
  2. You can produce excellent meat in the same time it takes to grow out a hog, and the meat is better quality than goat meat.
  3. They fit in small spaces very well, and are suitable for backyards and microfarms where livestock is allowed.
  4. Milk sheep produce milk that is high in milk solids and high in butterfat, and which is one of the best substitutes for human breast milk. 
  5. Hair sheep do not require shearing, and many hair sheep breeds produce tender meat no matter the age of the sheep.
  6. Sheep may be grazed with either cattle, or goats, and also do well with poultry (in fact the poultry help control parasites).
  7. Many breeds are very prolific, and easy birthers. When chosen for those traits, they require very little in the way of maintenance to produce a fairly significant amount of meat each year, from a few ewes and a ram.
  8. Sheep can feed on a wide range of natural forage, and can thrive on fodder feeds and garden surplus also.

This puts them right at the top of my Must Haves, because I have also discovered that I really like the meat. Lamb is very versatile, and can be used in a wide variety of dishes that our family routinely prepares.

There are literally hundreds of breeds of sheep, and they tend to be very regional in nature. This means that when you go looking for a specific breed, it may not be readily available in your area, even if it is otherwise a stable and well established breed. You'll find that most local sheep are of a similar breed, or perhaps two breeds, and nobody much questions whether they are a good breed or not, they just acquire sheep and either raise them for wool, meat, or breeding, or they buy the lambs in the spring and butcher them in the fall, much like hogs. As long as they produce, everybody is happy and they do not bother to wonder if there is a breed that might work better.

I have also discovered that the average farming community doesn't know hair sheep from toffee. They are completely ignorant of the fact that sheep exist that do not require shearing. When raising sheep for meat, hair sheep can save you a good deal of money in shearing costs, and save you the bother of having to shear them yourselves when you do not want the wool.

When wool IS a desired crop, the prices are much better for specialty wools - but NOT through the standard wool markets. This means colored wool, fine wool, and ethnic wool types sell very well direct to artists. These sheep are actually worth shearing for the price of the wool, but only if the wool is marketed to specialty markets, and fiber artists, and NOT through mainstream wool wholesalers. A few of the specialty wool sheep also have very fine meat, making them a great dual purpose choice.

Milk sheep have been bred for higher milk production, but a high producing sheep will still produce only half to a third of what a high producing goat will produce within a single lactation. Sheep can produce a good amount of milk at one milking, but they typically do not produce for an extended length of time. Their milk is high in milk solids, making it excellent for cheese, and it has a fairly high butterfat content. 

With goats, you can leave the kids on the doe, and milk anyway. Some owners will shut the kids up separately from the doe through the night after 1-2 months of age, and then wean them completely at about 4 months of age (some will earlier). Sheep do not produce as well, and those sheep that are very prolific are the ones that milk the best - but their lambs will also demand more. So keeping lambs on will make it much more difficult to milk ewes. Milk sheep require additional feeding, and if you want to try tandem milking you'll need to increase feed accordingly.

All sheep are NOT created equal, and one of the strengths of the multitude of sheep breeds is that they are often bred for specific climate conditions, and finding a breed that was developed for difficult climates or conditions can make a huge difference in the ability of your sheep to thrive under the conditions which you have available.

It is recommended that you ask about parasite problems in any breed of sheep you intend to acquire, and do some checking on the prevalence of those parasites in your region. Some kinds of parasites are so aggressive they have been known to take down entire flocks of sheep, and fairly rapidly. When prevented, they are controllable, but once well established, are much more difficult to eradicate or maintain damage control. Susceptibility to aggressive parasites varies widely breed to breed as well.


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