Awassi type ewe in Canterbury (Photo by Michael Willis)
A Rare Breed of Middle East Origin
In 1991 the New Zealand Government identified the Awassi as having a future input into the country’s sheep production, especially for milk. Israel had developed an improved dairy strain, and about 150 embryos were subsequently imported into quarantine. These were released in 1995, and an intensive breeding program was introduced. No sooner had it begun than the Government decided to get out of Awassi sheep, and the flock was obtained up by a Saudi Arabian Company calling itself “Awassi New Zealand”. This company controls the Awassi breed within New Zealand, but has exported two thirds of the stock to Australia, and formed “Awassi Australia”, a sister company which also carefully guards the breed, so that nobody else has access to the stock.
There are, however, now other known Awassis in Havelock North, Taupo, and Timaru, along with a small group at Willowbank in Christchurch. Most are no doubt of crossbred origin, but the Awassi characteristics are very dominant, and they are an interesting addition to New Zealand’s agriculture, where they are numerically one of the rarest breeds in the country.
The fat tail, brown face and legs, and long floppy ears immediately differentiate the the Awassi from other breeds of sheep, together with their upright stance and relatively hairy white coat. The rams have large curled horns. Temperamentally they are very quiet sheep and will cluster around you nibbling your fingers in the fond hope of some rewarding treat.
Thanks to Michael Willis for the photographs and information