Current Terminology used to Describe Persian Sheep Crossbreds, a Buyer’s Guide
Persians are an ancient breed of sheep that particularly over the last century have been crossed with a variety of other breeds. Some of the crosses have turned out to be enormously successful, in particular, the Dorper which was developed by crossing the Persian with the Dorset Horn. The resultant crossbreds had so many desirable characteristics notably the ability to produce a lot of meat , often in comparatively harsh conditions , that the cross was standardized and became widespread. Dorpers are now one of the most common and popular sheep breeds in the world. Other crossbreds , such as the Meatmaster although having their supporters have not ,as yet, gained wide popularity. Since Persians were first imported into Australia in 1999 they have been crossed with a number of other breeds. Sometimes this has been done to try and produce a new type of sheep but many of the crossbreds produced are essentially a by- product of a process called upgrading where purebred Persians are repeatedly mated back to successive generations of crossbreds to generate sheep containing more and more Persian genes. Crossbreds are offered for sale under a variety of names. It can all be a bit confusing. Some of the names used are discussed below.
Harlequin Mini Meat Sheep ( HMMS) These are essentially small, self- shedding colored sheep of mixed genes that contain some Persian blood. The importer of the first Persian sheep into Australia, Denis Russell, crossed some of his Persians with a small crossbred Dorper ram. The aim was to produce a small , pretty, self –shedding sheep that would have a good meat carcass and hopefully inherit some of the Persian’s hardiness .Subsequently some breeders have taken on these animals and are trying to establish them as a breed. All of this has occurred quite recently. With the first Black Head Persians coming to Australia in 1999 and the first Skilders in 2006 it has only been since 2000 and 2007 that the first animals were available for breeding. Too early to be called a breed they are more of a type or perhaps an idea of a type. HMMS are variable in type , color, size, markings and conformation. Lost are the dewlap, manubrium, sambokie, facial expression, unique tail set and fat pad of the pure Persian. Although termed “mini” many of these sheep are larger than smaller pure bred Persians. One HMMS breeder comments that the initial Persians used to produce the HMMS were of poor quality having poor conformation and feet and that crossing them with other breeds has “improved “ the sheep. A registration scheme is in place where owners are ( simply )required to send photos of their sheep and provide evidence that the sheep are descended from some of Denis Russell’s stock to achieve registration.
Miniature Persians There is no such breed as a Miniature Persian. There are just Persians and some are smaller than others. Persians are naturally a small breed of sheep. The average Black Head Persian ram weighs 70 kg while, by comparison, Merino rams weigh between 80 and 105 kg and Suffolk rams weigh 100 to 160 kg, over twice the size of a Persian. When breeding purebred Persians some of the individuals produced are smaller than the breed average. These smaller sheep are cute, “chunky” sheep and are appealing to some breeders. As yet they do not breed true with small rams and ewes often producing lambs that grow to be normal sized Persians. It is likely, however, that with continued selection over the years that lines of small Persian sheep may be developed.
Harlequin Miniature Sheep This term is often used interchangeably with “Miniature Persians” and “ Harlequin Mini Meat Sheep”. As with the HMMS, these are essentially small, self- shedding colored sheep of mixed genes that contain some Persian blood.
F1, F2, F3 etc Persians. What does this mean? Basically these are genetic terms used to describe crossbreds.The parental or P generation refers to the first set of parents that are crossed. The first crossbred ( or first filial ) generation, abbreviated to F1, consists of all the crossbred offspring produced by mating sheep from the parental generation together. If these F1 sheep ( eg first cross Persians ) are then mated to each other or back to one of the parental lines ( ie back to a Persian) then the next generation is called the second filial, ie F2 ,generation . If this process continues then F3 , F4 and F5 individuals are produced. When Persians were first introduced into Australia they were in very low numbers. Some breeders attempted to produce more Persians by upgrading , as outlined above , to sequentially produce sheep containing more and more Persian genes. For example,F1 Persian sheep contain ,on average 50% Persian blood while F5 Persian sheep on average contain 96.88% Persian genes . This terminology is therefore a way of describing how much actual Persian blood is in these crossbred sheep.
The current terminology used in Australia to describe various Persian crossbred sheep can be all a bit confusing. Some of the terms used are very loosely defined. Basically, however, there are pure bred Persian sheep and a range of Persian crossbreds that are discussed and advertised for sale under a variety of different names. Anyone considering purchasing some of these animals or anyone who would simply like to know more about them is welcome to contact the Australian Persian Sheep Association.