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Damara Sheep

A Rare Breed of African Origin

Damara ewe with lamb at Willowbank Farm, Canterbury

Although there are claims that the Damara breed of sheep originated in Egypt as long ago as 3000 BC, its recognition as a named breed is more realistically dated to the early twentieth century. In 1904, this long-legged sheep breed was seen by German explorers in the northern region of Namibia, which was then called Gross Damaland – hence it became known as the Damara Sheep. At one time, local farmers who used copper in their traditional attire, exchanged Damara Sheep for copper wire and for horses.

In 1954, many Damara Sheep were confiscated from commercial farmers who were smuggling sheep through the “Veterinary Cordon Fence”, which was erected to separate disease-free areas of southern Namibia from those of the north. The confiscated Damara Sheep were resettled at the Omatjenne Research Station, near Otjiwarongo, Namibia.

Over the next few decades selective breeding improved the meat-producing qualities of the already well-adapted indigenous Damara without losing its main characteristics and adaptive traits for bushveldt savannah grazing.

Damara group
Group of Damara sheep at Willowbank Farm, Canterbury

The breed’s ability to survive in a harsh environment and under poor nutritional conditions made it suitable for the communal areas of Namibia where extreme conditions are the norm rather than the exception. It is a so-called “no care” breed, with short, shiny, multi-coloured hairy coat, and has a fat tail which gradually tapers down to a thin end. The ram has strong open spiral horns but the ewe is usually polled. Up to 60% of the Damara’s diet can consist of browsed vegetation, and it can thus live in areas usually more suited to goats. They have a high resistance to both internal and external parasites. The average weight of an adult ram is 80 kilograms, an adult ewe 50 kilograms, and a new-born lamb 4 kilograms.

A Breeders’ Association was established at the Omatjenne Research Station in 1986, and many animals were subsequently exported to South Africa, which set up its own Damara Sheep Breeders’ Society in 1992. (See also The Damara of Southern Africa.)  The breed has also been established in Australia and there are a few of them in New Zealand. Some have been used to cross with white-headed Dorpers to produce Meatmaster sheep.

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