Sheep Farming in Israel
Sheep farming in Israel is some of the most productive in the world, with carefully developed breeds of Asaf sheep that produce high quantities of milk. This success is perhaps no surprise when you consider the history of sheep farming in Israel. In the Old Testament, Abel, the second son of Adam and Eve, became a shepherd. Many other important Biblical figures, including Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Rachel, and King David, kept flocks of goats and sheep. For early Jews, sheep provided wool, meat, and milk. Because flocks of sheep were transportable, shepherding was an ideal occupation for Jews as they traveled in search of a permanent homeland.
Today, Israelis have built upon this legacy of shepherding by improving their sheep breeds. There are two primary breeds of sheep in Israel: the Awassi and the Assaf. The Awassi is Israel’s native sheep bread. Israeli sheep farmers have been improving the Awassi breed over the last 85 years. In 1930, Awassi sheep produced an average of about 40 liters of milk per year. Through careful husbandry and feeding techniques in addition to genetic selection, Israeli farmers have drastically increased that number. The new, improved Awassi sheep now produce an average of 550 liters of milk per year. The one downside to the Awassi sheep is their rate of reproduction. Awassi ewes typically lamb just once a year and usually give birth to just one lamb.
Israeli sheep farmers undertook to tackle this problem by crossbreeding a new kind of sheep. Beginning in 1955, farmers crossbred the improved Israeli Awassi with the German East Friesian breed. The German East Friesian is known for high milk production and high fertility but was not well-suited to conditions in Israel. Israeli farmers found that a combination of 3/8 East Friesian and 5/8 Awassi was ideal for optimized vitality, milk production, and birth rate.
The new crossbred sheep is called the Assaf sheep, and it combines the positive qualities of the Awassi and German East Friesian breeds. The Assaf sheep produce an average of 450 liters of milk annually, and they have an average prolificacy of 1.3 lambings each year with 1.6 lambs per lambing. Although their milk production is slightly lower than that of the Awassi sheep, their prolificacy is significantly higher.
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For information contact the Israeli Dairy School