In 1799, the Tunis sheep’s ancestors arrived in the United States from North Africa. These sheep are often described as “fat-tailed,” and “barbary” and were highly regarded by a slew of prominent Americans such as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Judge Richard Peters, and George Washington. Gradually, a uniquely American breed was created from this North African variety. The name, Tunis, describes the animal’s connection to its foundation stock in Tunisia.
Once it arrived in the US, the Tunis Sheep quickly spread throughout the mid-Atlantic and the southeast, as they were well adapted to the heat and humidity of these regions. The Tunis was the mainstay of sheep production in the upper South until the Civil War, when nearly all of the Southern stock was destroyed. The remaining stock was harbored in the north after the war, and the Great Lakes region and New England became the stronghold of the breed. In the last decade, the Tunis Sheep has had a resurgence in the Southeast, as it is considered a gem within American agricultural history.
The Tunis sheep is striking and attractive in appearance, with cream or ivory colored wool that is set nicely contrasted by a cinnamon-red face and legs. Their pendulous ears and expressive eyes give a quizzical aspect to their demeanor, which is correctly interpreted as calm and docile.
The meat from the Tunis sheep is tender and flavorful without having a strong mutton taste.
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