One of the more unusual and endearing breeds of sheep is the Blackhead Persian. Depending upon where you live, they are also called Swartkoppersie, Somali Blackhead or the Somalis Brazileria. Many people may mistake this sheep for a goat, because it does not grow wool. It grows hair instead.
The Blackhead Persian never would have survived if it had grown wool. It was developed in South Africa from Somalian sheep and been successfully exported to very humid places like Brazil and the Caribbean. There is also a variety of a slightly different color called the Redhead Persian, although Blackhead Persian purebreds can and do give birth occasionally to a Redhead Persian.
Because they do not have wool, the Blackhead Persian has been bred for meat and for leather gloves. They have what’s called a fat tail because – well, because the tail and the area of the rump around the tail can store a surprisingly large quantity of fat. Another place where the sheep can store fat is the dewlap on the neck below the jaw.
If they were developed in Africa, then how did they get the Persian part of their name? Legend has it that, in 1868, a cargo ship carrying sheep from the Persian Gulf got stranded in South Africa by a terrible storm. The white South African farmers knew a good sheep when they saw one and traded their sheep for the sheep on board the boat, which became the foundation stock of the breed. Historians say that this legend is nonsense, but the name has stuck.
Blackhead Persians get their name for a good reason – their entire heads and necks are black. This makes a startling contrast to their white bodies. Sometimes there may be matching black on the legs, but usually the legs are as white as the bodies. They tend to carry their heads high when they are not grazing. This stance has made some aficionados of the breed describe their expression as “regal”.
They have long, goat-like ears and neither sex has horns. When they mature they can reach weights of 150 pounds for the rams and 110 for the ewes. The ewes have between one and three lambs at a time. According to the Domestic Animal Diversity Information System, the milk of Blackhead Persians contains 5.9% fat.
Blackhead Persians and Redhead Persians have been used to help bolster any native sheep breeds in hot, humid countries. They are noted to being a very healthy breed and have the ability to put on fat in tough grazing conditions. The sheep are harvested for meat mostly as lambs but sometimes as adults.
University of Oklahoma. Breeds of Livestock. “Blackhed Persian.” http://www.ansi.okstate.edu/breeds/sheep/blackheadpersian/index.htm
“World Watch List for Domestic Animal Diversity 3rd Edition.” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States. 2000. http://webpages.icav.up.pt/PTDC/CVT/099782/2008/References%20for%20Exomics%20proposal%20%5BPTDC-CVT-099782-2008%5D/PDF%20files%20of%20references_max%2030%20%5BExomics%5D/Scherf%20BD%202000_World%20Watch%20List%20for%20Domestic%20Animal%20Diveristy-3rd%20edition.pdf
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States. “Productivity of the Blackhead Persian Sheep in Tanzania.” S.M. Das, et al. http://www.fao.org/wairdocs/ilri/x5472b/x5472b1a.htm