Karakul Sheep – Origin and Characteristics

The Karakul is one of the most well-known sheep breeds in the world and highly appreciated by breeders with a tradition in livestock and sheep meat consumption, as well as in the fashion industry.

Some Facts about Karakul Sheep

Karakul sheep belongs to the fat-tailed or fat-rumped group of breeds that is characterised by the fat deposit at the base of the tail rather than elsewhere in the carcass. This fat has a distinctive texture and flavour that are highly valued in central Asian cuisine and others!

The Karakul sheep is a wool-producing breed as well! Besides their good quality meat, the Karakul is also considered a wool sheep still raised for the pelts of new-born lambs.


The breed’s ancestors hailed from the former emirate of Bokhara, a land located in present-day Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. The name Karakul came from a city whose name means “black lake”.

Early breeders tweaked the sheep breed’s genetic, so the Karakul has been used in the development of new breeds or types such as the Large Karakul, Multifoetal Karakul, American, Chinese or German Karakul etc. In fact, there are many local varieties of alternative names including “Persian lamb”, for example.

The Karakul sheep has also been exported to many countries in order to establish national populations. According to Mason’s World Encyclopedia of Livestock Breeds and Breeding, it was introduced to Turkey in 1929 with a group of 16 rams and 20 ewes from Russia, but a large flock of Karakul had been established in Central Anatolia by 1950 as a result of grading-up from some native breeds with Karakul rams.

The division of the Karakul into separate national breeds begs the question whether these populations have diverged sufficiently to warrant separation. For example, the Karakul arrived in the USA between 1909 and 1936 and since then that population has been genetically separate from its ancestral Central Asian stocks. This has been the justification used to classify the American Karakul as a separate breed and is mentioned in the same Encyclopedia.

In Romania, the Karakul was imported in the 19th century and re-named Romanian Karakul.


Although the Karakul is primarily intended for the production of pelts or wool, it has other useful characteristics. It is hardy and adaptable and can thrive in different climatic conditions in a difficult environment. The sheep are active grazers and browsers and have long lop ears.

They are medium-sized, though the size may vary between national populations. Rams in the early importation into France were typical of the breed. They weighed 60-85 kg and stood 75-80 cm high at the withers. Ewes weighed 45-60 kg and were 65-70 cm tall.

In the USA, Karakul sheep appear to be larger with weights of 80-100 kg for rams and 50-70 kg for ewes, whereas they are smaller in Turkey with ewe weights of 38-42 kg.

Rams are horned and ewes are polled.

Karakul ewes are not prolific, generally being seasonal breeders and producing a single lamb, but they have strong maternal instincts. They yield 55-60 l of milk with 7.5 % fat.


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