Small flock of izimvu Zulu sheep
Here are some my own thoughts on improving and maintaining the genetic diversity of the Zulu sheep breed. Please correct or give me more information to add or subtract from what I have written.
Clearly a large amount of interbreeding with sheep introduced from abroad in recent times has occurred in particular Dorper and Merino which needs to be addressed and eliminated as much as is possible, however it is most important not to focus too closely on man selected criteria of selection of desireable traits to get back to the “pure Zulu sheep breed”.
By selecting for a limited number of traits that have in the lack of knowledge as to the original traits been deemed to be desirable in Zulu sheep, we run the great risk of breeding out good and valuable genes that were part of the original genome of the breed.
In fact, if one takes a look at certain closely managed flocks in particular the ones maintained by ARC, they certainly show sighs of being selectively bred in accordance with economic characteristics seen in various other recent commercial breeds.
On the other hand, in remote flocks that I have had the privileged to see that have clearly been little influenced by introduced blood, in these flocks there is far more variation and a very different look, when compared to the sheep that have been selectively bred for purity of genetics. Clearly these animals have been bred pure but only for certain characteristics which in my opinion should be avoided if we want to keep the breed as close to as they were for thousands of years.
My reasoning is to only eliminate clearly recognisable undesirable traits that have clearly come from foreign breeds and allow the flow of as much variation to occur as possible.
I here recommend to regularly change the breeding ram or rams with ones introduced from stock that show no sign of interbreeding with foreign sheep, to cull all ewes that show well defined signs of mixed blood and let natural selection do the rest.
From what I have seen and read in scientific papers it would appear that the main characteristics of the Zulu sheep breed are a small framed very active sheep of between 35 and 40 kg in weight, with long legs a narrow shallow frame with long neck and a tail that could be fat or slender the majority of which are carrot shaped.
The sheep are covered by hair and wool to various mounts much of wool is usually shed in the summer months and regrows in winter.
The Zulu sheep are of mixed colours with black and brown being predominant with patches of white in many of the sheep.
Genetic structure of South African Nguni
(Zulu) sheep populations reveals admixture
with exotic breeds
Mokhethi Matthews Selepe, Simone Ceccobelli, Emiliano Lasagna, Nokuthula Winfred Kunene
A young Zulu sheep ram