Fat tail sheep set for show

Fat tail sheep set for show

Sue Cairns, Harcourt, will take a team of eight Damaras to the Melbourne Show.

Sue Cairns, Harcourt, will take a team of eight Damaras to the Melbourne Show.


DAMARAS will be shown at Melbourne Royal for only the second time this year.


BACK-END "flubber" has helped give the Damara a leg-up in evolution.

The breed learned not to be fussy while grazing the sparse plains of Egypt and the Middle East around 3000BC and still maintains its thriftiness for converting fuel into fat which is stored in the tail.

Needless to say, more than 5000 years later and on the other side of the world, Sue Cairns' 50-head flock is doing pretty well grazing the 18-hectare property in the hills north of Harcourt.

Mrs Cairns will take eight Jarrara Damaras to the Royal Melbourne Show this year for what will be only the breed's second showing at the event.

The Damaras' hair coat means the sheep don't need to be shorn and don't get flystrike or lice, and their tough physiology makes them resistant to many pests and diseases.

For the part-time veterinary nurse, it was the easy-care nature (along with the colourful and varied coats) that attracted Mrs Cairns to the breed.

"They'll eat anything," she said.

"Like any animal, they eat the nice stuff first, but when faced with scrub they'll go for that too."

Their easy-going palate has seen several hobby farmers purchase a few head for cheap lawn-mowing purposes, but Mrs Cairns has had a varied range of inquiry lately.

Most recently, interest has come from the US around importing their horns to be mounted as wall decoration.

But there are a number of other niche users of the Damara.

"The tail fat is used in a Middle Eastern and Russian dish called plov, and I've had a lot of people ring me for tail fat, which I don't have enough of - and then there's the meat as well," Mrs Cairns said.

She describes the underside of the Damara tail as "flubbery and soft", and said it is where the sheep stores excess energy in preparation for a dry summer when it can go for long periods without drinking or eating.

GALLERY: Click on the image above to see more photos

Plov is a traditional favourite in its homeland of Uzbekistan but is also found on menus is Eastern Europe and Russia.

The Damara's tail fat is used in the curry-like recipe instead of oil or butter and is said to give the dish a unique and enjoyable taste.

"They have lots of meat on them - it's just not fatty," she said.

"From a butcher's point of view, it's easy, because you don't have to trim all the fat off.

"You have your leg, which is just leg, and back straps that are just heaps of meat.

"If you had the numbers you'd have no trouble selling them to the Russian or Middle Eastern people in Melbourne.

"Lots of people ring up wanting just the meat."

According to Mrs Cairns, rams can reach 100 kilograms while ewes have a more slender, feminine frame.

"They're very quick," she said.

"When the lambs are born, if you don't catch them within a few hours you'll never catch them in the paddock.

"They're born running."

At Jararra, ewes are joined once a year in the autumn months.

Ideally, ewes only have one lamb, Mrs Cairns said.

"They're tiny when they're born and usually more than double in size by four weeks.

"They will stop growing at about six months for a while and then shoot off in a few months' time and keep growing.

"The mothers are very protective.

"Damaras all stick together in a group and at night you'll know when your first lamb is born.

"The first lamb we had came two weeks early and I went outside and they were sitting in a circle all facing out with the lamb in the middle.

"It was like they'd formed a guard around it. I wish I'd had a camera."

In the past Damara rams have been crossed with Wiltshire Horn ewes at the property, producing a robust, meaty lamb with a shedding coat (from the Wiltshire genes) and the Damara tail.

"The first-cross lamb is huge - the hybrid vigour that comes out is amazing," Mrs Cairns said.

Maintaining genetic diversity within the mob of 50 registered animals has been the reason behind several trips afield for the Jararra principal.

The first eight breeding Damaras were bought from southern Queensland four years ago.

Mrs Cairns then made a trip to Bourke, NSW, a year later to acquire another 20 registered sheep.

"We figure we're pretty safe with genetic diversity for quite a while," she said.

"And because it's so hard to get breeding stock in the first place, we wanted to get as big a genetic pool as we could.

"To get another ram we'd have to go to Western Australia or southern Queensland again.

"My aim is to have 25 good breeding ewes so I can be really fussy - and I'm at the stage now where I can start culling heavily for different characteristics."

The stud's most desirable traits are good teeth, large size, good structural conformation and a nice straight tail.

Selecting Damaras with a dewlap - a fold of loose skin down the neck similar to in some cattle breeds - is also a goal as Mrs Cairns wants to breed the Jararra sheep true to the traditional type she saw on television for the first time several years ago.

"They didn't look like normal sheep - they were long-legged and had the fat tail.

"I just really liked them instantly."


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