Karakul Sheep

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Other common names: Karakul'skaya (Russian), Astrakhan, Bukhara , Karagül (Turkey), Persian Lamb, QaraQul

The basics:
Believed to be the oldest breed of domesticated sheep, the Karakul originated in Central Asia. It is different from common breeds in that it has a broad and large tail that stores fat in the same manner as a camel has humps. It is often referred to as Persian Lamb to give reference to its famous tightly curled wool. It was introduced to the United States in the early 1900s, at about the same time they were also introduced to Namibia by German colonists. Karakul sheep are popular for their extraordinary lamb pelt and double-coated wool that may have been the origin of the art of felting. American Livestock Breeds Conservancy classifies the Karakul sheep as a “rare” breed.

Appearance / health:
Karakuls are medium-sized sheep that are fat and broad-tailed but stand tall with a long and narrow body. The head is also long and narrow with most rams being horned and most ewes being hornless. The fleece is colored, like black, brown, gray, tan, agouti, and white. Lambs are usually born black with soft curly fur then mature to different colors with loosely curled fur. The long wool is strong, lightweight, and used for carpets, rugs, garments, and decorative hangings.

One of the most common ailments among sheep is a viral skin disease called soremouth or “orf.” Ringworm or “club lamb fungus” is a rash also common among sheep. And much like “mad cow disease,” sheep can have a similar neurological ailment called “scrapie.” Sheep health issues should be addressed by a qualified veterinarian. Good health is promoted by sanitary habitat conditions and proper nutrition.

Behavior / temperament:
Sheep are herd animals that rely on staying together as a flock to protect themselves from predators. They are highly sensitive to predators because they are basically “prey animals.” They sense the presence of threat from several hundred feet away (they are able to twist and turn their ears to detect potential danger) and instinctively flee instead of fight or attack. While fleeing, sheep run in a winding pattern to be able to see what is behind them.

As domesticated animals, sheep make good pets because they are docile and easily connect with humans, especially lambs that are bottle-fed. Miniature breeds and sheep that have hair instead of fur make ideal pets. Raising pet sheep is a popular project in the 4-H youth organization.

Karakuls are popular for their hardiness and adaptability to extreme and harsh environmental conditions, being native to Central Asia’s high altitudes, sparse vegetation and limited water supply.

Housing / diet:
Sheep are grazing animals and do well living their entire lives outdoors. They get sufficient exercise and fresh air out in the field. They do need shelter from bad storms and unusually hot days. Many sheep keepers install field structures to provide shade, for example, hutches, domes, carports, and makeshift sheds. A common shade structure is a hoop house, like an open hangar or a greenhouse, which has a metal arched frame covered with tarp or other heavy-duty fabric.

Some sheep owners keep their flock in a barn or similar enclosure to protect them from predators. These enclosures must have very good ventilation because moisture and poor air conditions lead to the sheep’s poor health.

For warmth and comfort, bedding material should be provided. The best bedding is absorbent, clean, and dry. Some options are straw, wood shaving, sawdust, corncobs, dried corn stalks, peat, hemp, paper, and alfalfa hay. Preference is determined by cost, availability, convenience, and type of sheep. Wool sheep will not appreciate sawdust because it gets in their fleece. Paper is highly absorbent but difficult to manage in the field.

Lambs start with their mother’s milk and a light diet of pasture grass at two weeks old. After weaning the lambs from ewe’s milk at six weeks old, they can start eating dry feed of grains (wheat, oats, barley, cottonseed, corn), soybean and peanut hulls, and hay. The main diet of sheep is fresh grass and other forage and pasture vegetation. The pasture must be fertile and large enough to support the grazing of sheep for about seven hours a day (morning and afternoon). Fresh water must be constantly available, especially during the warm months and if the diet is mostly dry hay. Supplements are recommended, and must be given in the middle of the day to balance the sheep’s food intake.


wonderful sock yarn, great fleece, hardy sheep, harsh climate


strong lambs, black dominates, clean faces, clean legs, primitive breed

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