Why are these sheep so special?
The first difference you notice with Damara sheep is the adults still have their tails, but these are no ordinary tails. The tails are ‘fat’, starting off thicker at the base and tapering to a point. Their odd tails are where the sheep store their fat instead of on the body, which ensures the meat is lean. While it can look odd when you see a fat tail on a slim sheep, it’s less noticeable when they are moving as a flock.
It’s also different to ‘fat rump’ breeds of sheep like Karakul and Awassi; Damara only have fat tails.
This fat tail has a number of advantages. It is a store of energy when feed isn’t available, perfect in a drought as breeders have found in dry-prone Australia where Damara have been found to be even better adapted than Merino. The tail releases its store of vitality into the bloodstream when required, and from there into the milk.
When it comes time to home-kill, fat trimming is so much easier and quicker as once the tail is off, little else is fat.
The meat of the Damara has a mild flavour with low cholesterol and low fat, and has done well in taste and tenderness tests. The ‘Meatmaster’ breed of sheep, recognised around the world and developed in South Africa, is the Damara crossed with another shedding or hairless breed like the Wiltshire or Dorper for improved growth and quantity of meat. A Dorper cross produces marbling in the meat which is popular in Asia.
Another striking difference is that Damara look more like goats, with no wool, long legs, floppy ears, and some even have tassels on their necks. The short, coarse coat is more like hair than wool, growing in winter, shedding in spring; the belly and tail area are always smooth. These attributes make the sheep the perfect breed for any lifestyle block owner who doesn’t want the hassle of wool, saving the time and cost of shearing. It also means the Damara has greater resistance to fly strike and there’s no need for crutching, the two dreaded sheep chores and the worst part of owning sheep.
Like goats, you also don’t know what you’re going to get colourwise. Coat patterns are unique and an animal can have a range of wool colours: white, brown, black and white, or a mix of all of them. It adds to their high cute factor and is always a great talking point with visitors who often have only ever seen white sheep.
Damara sheep are very hardy, and incredibly versatile and adaptable which enables them to cope with a wide range of climate zones and extremes of weather and temperature. They can cope with drought, heavy rainfall, intense cold, extreme heat and poor grazing and still thrive. The breed can cope with -20°C in Canada right through to the tropical rainforests of New Caledonia. They’re already popular in the US and Australia as people have caught on to their amazing adaptability.