Threatened sheep moving on up

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MILO, Iowa – Recent USDA numbers show the inventory of breeding sheep is down. But one breed of sheep is showing a remarkable increase.
Tunis sheep, known as the red heads, are showing remarkable growth on farms across the United States.
There have been such large requests from the western United States for Tunis breeding sheep that Eastern producers are having trouble filling the orders.
Big move. With such remarkable growth of the breed, the National Tunis Sheep Registry, Inc. moved its registration offices to Milo, Iowa, where the American Hampshire Sheep and Associated Registries offices are located. This organization will now handle all registrations of Tunis sheep.
This move signifies that the Tunis registry has outgrown its physical offices, previously based in the homes of Tunis breeders, but is also the fastest-growing sheep breed.
According to former National Tunis Clerk Judy Harris, the number of registrations has grown steadily.
“In 1990 there were 605 Tunis sheep registered. According to the most recent available statistics, that has more than doubled to more than 1,475 registered Tunis in 2006. Expert forecasts predict that this number will continue to climb in future years and exhibits the dedication of Tunis breeders to the longevity of the breed.”
Threatened. Tunis sheep neared extinction during the Civil War because they were a readily accessible source of protein for soldiers. In fact, Tunis sheep were listed as “threatened” by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.
However, due to the diligence and dedication of Tunis breeders, the Tunis sheep breed has moved up on the conservation priority list to “watch” status.
According to Don Schrider, communication director of American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, “This move reflects the excellent job Tunis breeders are doing to promote this American treasure.
“Tunis sheep now stand as an example of a rare American breed that is successfully growing in population and earning recognition for its outstanding production characteristics.”
Characteristics. According to Schrider, Tunis sheep are a medium-sized breed that are friendly and gentle. They are easy-keeping and the mothers are heavily milk producing. These characteristics lend well to small family farm flocks, he said.
The National Tunis Sheep Registry, Inc. sponsors shows and sales across the United States that help maintain the integrity of Tunis sheep bloodlines, furthering the breed’s longevity.
Since moving its National Tunis Sale from the northeast to Wooster, Ohio, in 2003, the registry has seen growth in the number of Tunis breeders selling and buying Tunis sheep from Ohio westward.
Events. This sale, traditionally taking place Memorial Day weekend, is in conjunction with the Great Lakes Wool Festival. According to Banner Sales Management, the 2007 National Tunis Sale had a record 100 head of Tunis sheep consigned to the sale.
Another popular Tunis sale, The Tunis Summer Spectacular, will be held June 22-23 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield, Ill. More than 30 head of Tunis rams and ewes will be sold.
To help young sheep breeders interested in purchasing Tunis sheep, there will be a free drawing for more than $300 in sale credits for a youth and new breeders that go toward purchases at the Tunis sale.
Tunis ewe lambs that are entered in the National Tunis Sale and Tunis Summer Spectacular are eligible for the National Tunis Futurity youth contest, which encourages and supports youth interest in Tunis sheep.
The futurity is open to all breeders and all youth purchasers.
Shows and classes. According to Tunis breeder Linda Cook of Muncie, Indiana, “The Indiana State Fair has now offered a Tunis show. The August show will not only be for established Tunis breeders from across the country, but the Indiana State Fair will offer a 4-H Tunis market lamb class and a breed class for Indiana 4-H members.”
The All-American Junior Sheep show will be July 6-8 in East Lansing, Mich., on the campus of Michigan State University.

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