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Indigenous sheep breeds of North Ethiopia: characterization of their phenotype and major production system


A study was conducted in Tigrai, Northern Ethiopia to describe the sheep breeds and their production system. The survey was done in selected districts known for their high sheep population density. The phenotype characterization identified distinct features for each breed. The breeds are Aberegelle, Ille, Begait, and the common Tigrai highland sheep. The strong discriminating phenotypes are face profile, tail type, and compactness; accounting for 83.48, 17.95, and 2.93 % respectively of the total variability among breeds. The flock structure are affected by the market demand; requirements of breeding females and feed availability. Farmers tend to keep more female sheep for longer (culling age of 5.9 ± 0.4 and 1.9 ± 0.5 for females and males, respectively) for the reasons of feed shortage and need to maximize number of breeding female. The ratio of male to overall female is large (1:6) and thus a single ram gets maximum contact time with ewes and ewe lambs. The overall average age at puberty for females is 9–14 months. However, the presence of very young lamb rams and uncontrolled mating system lead to early breeding of females which results in low conception rate, low birth weight, poor survival rates, and in extreme cases causing inbreeding. It was also possible to identify the critical control points such as breed, age of animals, nutrition, and feeding systems affecting the provision of live animals for good meat quality.

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The authors gratefully thank the Rural Capacity Building Project (RCBP) of Ethiopia for offering the first author the scholarship for this research work. In addition, Mr. Tesfu Lemlem, senior Geographic Information System (GIS) expert from the Relief Society of Tigrai is also appreciated for generating the map of Tigrai and respective study districts.

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Correspondence to Anil Kumar Anal.

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Gebretsadik, Z.T., Anal, A.K. Indigenous sheep breeds of North Ethiopia: characterization of their phenotype and major production system. Trop Anim Health Prod 46, 341–347 (2014).

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  • Sheep breeds
  • Phenotype
  • Production system
  • Meat quality
  • Ethiopia