Heritage-Breed • Pastured • Grass-Fed

The Tunis Breed

"The Redheads"

Affectionately known as "the redheads" for their unique reddish-brown faces, the Tunis are a multi-purpose, medium-sized, cream colored sheep with pendulous ears and a calm way about them.

Tunis is one of the oldest American livestock breeds, dating to the 1700s when a handful of sheep were introduced from Africa and were mixed with other breeds until a distinct new American breed was developed. Since the breed’s inception, the meat has been in high demand in the finer eating establishments of the eastern US, where its mild, sweet flavor and tenderness have always been appreciated. Thomas Jefferson and other early prominent American figures kept and promoted the breed, and it thrived until the Civil War, when the fighting resulted in the breed being almost completely lost. With only a few flocks left, and a new emphasis on breeds that specialized in either meat or wool production, the breed was slow to recover, and is still listed by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. Tunis breeders often point to the excellent taste of the meat, the quality of the wool, the ability to breed out of season or in hot weather, the easy lambing, good mothering, and heavy milk production when explaining their dedication to the breed. Others are simply attracted to their unique appearance, calm demeanor, and easy handling.

Tunis is one of the oldest American livestock breeds, dating to the 1700s.

The combination of heritage, rarity, and exceptional taste has led SlowFood USA include the Tunis as one of only three sheep breeds in their ‘Ark of Taste’. This special focus will help the breed recover, as will breeding and cryogenics programs at the Swiss Village Foundation, a partner with whom Tamarack has collaborated. The Swiss Village Foundation is especially interested in the Tunis breed for their ability to withstand drought conditions and to breed out of season, during extreme hot temperatures. By careful stewardship of the flock and collaboration with other Tunis breeders, Tamarack hopes to contribute to the breed’s full recovery.

The downsides of a heritage breed like Tunis are smaller size and slower growth rates. These challenge the economic sustainability of operations dedicated to preserving heritage breeds, but Tamarack operates with the trust that informed consumers will recognize the quality of the product and see the value in helping perpetuate the breed. Although it seems counter-intuitive at first blush, people need to eat meat from breeds like Tunis in order to save them.