Tunis sheep are adorable red heads that grow dense, ivory-colored wool – though they start out as copper-colored all over!
The sheep were developed in the United States but are descended from the Tunisian Barbary sheep of North Africa, a breed that dates back to biblical times. The Barbary sheep arrived in North America in 1799 as a gift to President George Washington from the ruler of Tunisia, Bey Hammuda ibn Ali.
The Bey sent 10 sheep, but only two survived the journey across the Atlantic. Nevertheless, the sheep must have made an impression. More Barbary imports followed, which were then crossed with the resident sheep.
The Tunis proved especially popular among early American presidents. George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson all raised Tunis sheep on their farms, with Jefferson even preferring the Tunis to his Merinos, calling them “the finest race of sheep ever known in this country.”
Despite its initial popularity, the Tunis population started to dwindle in the 19th century as woolgrowers opted to raise Merino sheep – which produced more and finer wool. And during the Civil War, the Tunis nearly went extinct.
Today, the breed is still considered rare but is making a comeback among small producers, who raise the breed for both wool and meat.
We especially value the Tunis for its wool. The ivory color, dense locks, solid crimp, and medium feel with just a touch of luster make for a beautiful yarn.
Check out our yarn Kaolin to see the Tunis in action. The yarn blends Tunis sheep wool with Lincoln Longwool locks to create a high-luster yarn with a sturdy feel and great stitch definition.
Photo credit: A Tunis sheep raised by Ferm Family Farms. Photo courtesy of Ferm Family Farms.