There is no other breed of sheep in the world quite like the Persian. Unique, special and ancient it is also rare. Throughout the entire world it is found in only a few countries and is nowhere common except in its origin country of South Africa. The Persian has characteristics not found in any other breed of sheep. Its short coat, spotted pattern, variety of colours, tiny tail, large chin skin fold, tail fat pad, prominent breastbone, small size, exotic appearance, heat tolerance, foraging ability and inherent tameness provide a unique combination that sets the breed apart from all others.
Although the Persian sheep has had a long and common history with mankind, having shared his journey out of ancient Mesopotamia into Africa and the Middle East over centuries, its commercial relevance has waned particularly over the last century in favour of more modern breeds that grow bigger and mature faster. It still, however, has an important commercial role to play where its tough heat tolerate , foraging characteristics combined with its ability to survive in harsh, dry arid hot environments are required. Persian rams are mated to ewes of other breeds to instil these characteristics. As sheep breeders are aware, Persians were used to create one of the world’s most popular breeds—the Dorper.
The Persian Sheep arrives in Australia Australia was placed in a unique situation in 1996 when South Africa, for the first time, allowed sheep to be exported. Several sheep breeders in Australia were quick to take advantage of this opportunity. Up until 1996 the South African government did not allow the export of sheep. Over millennia through harsh selection a number of sheep breeds had developed in South Africa. Sheep breeders around the world looked on with envy at the tough breeds of sheep found there that could not only survive but thrive in the hot, dry climate. Many of the sheep breeds found in South Africa were described as “hidden gems”. In 1996, South Africa opened its borders and allowed the export of sheep genetic material. Ironically, in 2006, Australia closed its borders forbidding the import of sheep material. Since 2006 it has not been possible to import sheep embryos, sperm or eggs let alone live sheep into Australia. Just 2 Australian breeders were able to take advantage of this narrow 10 year window of opportunity and the embryos that they imported during this time now form the base for the Australian Persian sheep flock that we have today. There were only 3 import shipments. Each shipment was a batch of frozen embryos. Two shipments were organised by Denis Russell in 1999 and 2006 of Genelink. A third shipment occurred also in 2006 and was organised by Dr Jean Van Neikirk, an expat South African. The two Genelink import shipments were implanted into recipients immediately and although all of these sheep have now died they are the ancestors of every skilder ( ie spotted ) Persian sheep in Australia. The Van Neikirk import embryos had a very different journey, kept frozen for 11 years they were implanted into recipients in 2017 by Dr Jean Van Neikirk and Dr Colin Walker. The resultant 22 ewes and 3 rams were all born between 20th and 25th August 2017. At the time of writing ( Feb 2019 ) these import embryo ewes are 15 months old and have 2 month old lambs at foot sired by an import embryo ram.
Coolibah Persian Sheep Stud After purchasing some Persians from Genelink over the previous 5 years, Coolibah Persian Sheep Stud purchased the entire stock of Genelink Stud ( comprising 24 ewes and 3 rams ) in 2013 and holds all of the import Van Neikirk sheep and their young. Through an ambitious super ovulation and embryo transfer program over the last 6 years Coolibah Persian Sheep Stud now has 400 purebred Persians which represents approximately 90% of the Australian purebred flock. As a result the Persian breed in Australia has been reclassified by the Australian Rare Breeds Trust from “critical” with less than 300 in the country to “vulnerable” with between 500 and 900 now thought to be present. At present ( January 2019) the breed is still very uncommon with about 500 pure animals in the whole country ( compared to Australia’s total sheep population of 150 million ).
All sheep at Coolibah Persian Sheep Stud are either imported African sheep or their direct descendants. In 2013 the Australian Persian Sheep Association was established. All Coolibah sheep are fully registered with this breed association. Coolibah Stud is the largest Stud in Australia and the only stud in Australia to offer a wide range of Persian sheep in all colours. Coolibah is also the only stud able to offer for sale sheep bred directly off imported Persian sheep. Coolibah offers purebred animals at affordable prices up to magnificent stud animals that are amongst the best representatives of the breed in this country. Persian sheep are small, tame sheep that never need shearing or tail docking, They are totally resistant to fly strike. Being natural foragers they preferentially graze weeds, in particular blackberries, and are ideal for the small land holder looking for a low maintenance pretty sheep. They make ideal pets.
The Australian Persian Sheep overseas Australia is in a unique situation. It is totally free of all the vesicular diseases such as Foot and Mouth disease and as such is an attractive market to other breeders around the world. In some countries, Australia is the only source country available to Persian breeders. Import is allowed from Australia but not from South Africa, other African or Middle Eastern countries. It is therefore important that the quality of the Australian flock is maintained. Coolibah Persian Sheep Stud has exported three lots of rams ( about 60 individuals ) back to South Africa and the UAE . Coolibah has also exported Persians to the University of Bangladesh (24 ewes and 16 rams ) . The Bangladeshis were interested in using Persian genetics to develop a heat-tolerant sheep .Coolibah is also exporting Persian semen and embryos to breeders in the USA.