( Ladakh Urial (aka: Iranian Red Sheep) and Afghan Urial)
I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to import his animals into Canada. The first imports of Urial sheep into North America came to the San Diego zoo over a decade ago. Only now are they becoming available to breeders in significant numbers.
Of all the sheep on my ranch, no species can compare to the striking looking Urials as they stand so royally on the rock outcroppings as the first rays of the morning sun hits them, their coats glows an almost pinkish-red colour and the black and white chest-ruff stands out in sharp contrast . . . gorgeous!
The Transcaspian Ural is the ancestor of all the Urials. They are only a handfull of breeders of this tye of sheep in North America and all are in the USA. They are the most desirable and expensive of the Urials. I do not have any "pure" transcaspian Urials at Skookumhorse Ranch, only the two other types of Urials below.
We have AFGHAN URIAL sheep.
They are a naturally occurring cross between a Transcaspian Urial and a Ladakh Urial. They are found Turkmenian, Eastern Iran, Afghanistan, and Northern Balochistan Pakistan.
There horn size and shape develop in a complete arc when viewed from the side with the tips bending slightly outwards. The Saddle patch is faint, the neck ruff or mane is typically solid tan in color with more and more white developing as the rams get older. As well there might be a slight amount of black hairs as well, normally at the base. They have more white on their face and often have the white muzzle. General body colour is light brown and tan, but this varies with each individual. The Underbelly and butt is white, sometimes with a black line separating the white and tan. They are a very beautiful sheep. The horns are long and form an open spiral and a blond color. The frontal horn surface is flat with sharp angles and distinct ridges, triangular in cross section.
We have LADAKH URIAL (aka: IRANIAN RED SHEEP) sheep.
They are a native wild species of Urial sheep that are occur naturally in Ladakh and Northern Pakistan in the Alborz mountains and the Kavir desert of north-central Iran, in one of those Transition zones I will speak of in "Keeping Urials" below. The Ladakh Urial is a hybrid between the Armenian Mouflon and the Transcaspian Urial. As a hybrid, its characteristics will vary. Saddle patch are commonly present and a prominent neck ruff down the chest made up of long straight coarse hairs called "Ruff" which start at the jaws and terminates abruptly between the forelegs. This ruff is black as it extends down to the sternum but often times they have some grey hairs in the throat region, the rams will develop more White hairs in their neck as they age. The horn configuration are variable, and some curve above and behind the neck, some curl around like a regular sheep, and some have horns that curve wide and down more like the Afghan Urial, and horn colour can be blonde or dark. General body colour is light brown or red (hence the name) as this varies with each individual. The Underbelly is white. They are a very colourful sheep, and have a very striking coat pattern with reds, white, blacks, and greys. The horns are long and homonymous, growing in a tight circle or forming an open spiral. The frontal horn surface is flat with sharp angles and distinct ridges, triangular in cross section.
We have been experimentally breeding our Urial rams to Texas Dall ewes, Black Hawaiian ewes, and Corsican ewes. Is this good or bad? I think that it is good for everyone.
The horns are going to get bigger with deeper curls. The bodies will get bigger. They will be a lot wilder. They will jump higher, the hybrid vigour is creating a healthier and hardier offspring sheep. They will be smarter, and since the main market for Urials presently is the hunting industry, they will be a better game animal. Plus we need to keep these addicted sheep hunters hunting, what would they do if they ran out of sheep to hunt?
When will this happen? Right now! Presently we have many 50 percent Urials, and they are amazing! Some farmers and ranchers will be amazed when their sheep jump out of their corrals with ease.
Their diet is very easy. They like to brows and free access to good quality grass and water. In the winter feed them good quality grass/alfalfa hay, preferably second cut finer stuff, some grain supplementation (but be careful to not try and push them on grain), and have access to fresh water and mineral licks at all times. Keep them vaccinated and wormed twice a year, you are going to have a big investment in them, so take care of them!
Breeding occurs from Mid October to Mid December. Females give birth to 1 or 2 young after a 5 month gestation period. Most births take place in mid March to mid May. Males and females both reach sexual maturity at 18 months. Pure Urials have an average gestation of approximately 6 months. Most Urial ewes produce singles, but some regularly have twins. Lambs weigh about 1.5 kg.
Like I said in the ID section above, we are now breeding out Urials to some of our other species and getting really great results. These offspring being a Hybrid of the Urial and other sheep species will have up to two litters a year and Twins are very common. These hybrids have a average length of gestation of 148 days.
Longevity always varies with species type and from individual to individual. But for the Urials one can expect a maximal life span of 14 years.
Behaviour and Keeping Urials
The Urial sheep require a 8 foot fence to be restrained, with ease they can jump a four foot fence. Also they are a wild sheep folks, very wild . . . sometimes crazy wild! I have seen them crash into trees, gates, and each other at very high speeds when they are released. When I need to catch them for worming or vaccinating in my barn, I have had them jump right over me. It is a big job for a grown men to hold a full grown ram, they are strong.
As I stated earlier, a Urial ram is large, and ours are comparable in body size to a Alaska/Yukon Dall or Stone, we have had some that weigh 200lbs presently, and they are still young! The Urials horns can reach 40" in one curl, and 10"+ thick at the base. They can be up to 39" in height at the shoulders and over 45" in length. They have long legs and a longer neck than other species of sheep, and have the look of our Wild sheep. Just like most species the further north you go the bigger the bodies get, that's why ours have evolved bigger in body than those found on ranches in Texas.
They are extremely wary, have great eyesight, and flee at slight disturbances, even at great distances. You can raise any Urials is smaller confinement, and they can learn to go into a small pen with regular routine grain feeding, then when you need them, close the gate. You better get them the first time, because if they figure out what you are doing, it will take weeks of training again before they trust you enough to come back into the pen. You can take them from a pen to the pasture, but it is hard to go from a pasture to a pen.
About Urial Meat . . .
Have you ever ate Wild Sheep like Stone or Dalls? Well this is the closest meat I have ever tasted that is exactly like them! I have never ate Urial Lamb yet, need all the babies I can get and they are just to hardy, I have not met one I need to put down yet. All Urials yield lean, delicate-flavoured meat with none of the “muttony” flavour, that many people find distasteful. The carcass is much leaner than domestic market sheep, and has a brighter red colour. It resembled the carcass of a lean goat, and the few folks that have ate one say its the best sheep meat they have ever eaten!
Some General Information & Overview of Urial Sheep:
I talked briefly about the Transcaspian Urial because they are the ancestor of all Urial species. They evolved in the warm snow free mountains of NW Iran. Pure Transcaspians do not do well with Canadian Winters, they cannot handle it, and die from Hypothermia easily, and cannot deal with deep snow. Another fact about Pure Transcaspian Urial is they do not have a fully developed immune system until they are 12 months of age, and by hybridizing them you get the strong immune system right from the start. Most breeds of domestic sheep have built in immunity to many types of respiratory diseases and pneumonia stains, by mixing Transcaspian Urial and any other species of domestic sheep under one year of age can be disastrous, and often results in death of your Transcaspian Urial youngster.
Knowing this, I have no Pure Transcaspian Urial, only 7/8 Transcaspian Urial and 1/8 Armenian Mouflon, as this hybrid is called a Ladakh Urial or a Afghan Urial depending on the coat colouration. In all wild sheep populations throughout the world there are "Transition Zones" were two different species converge. For example where the Stone Sheep of Northern Canada and the White Alaska/Yukon Dalls meet, in these areas you get what is called a Fannin Sheep, basically a lighter colour Stone and darker colour Dall. The same is true with the Urials. In parts of Iran there is zones were the Transcaspian Urial and Armenian Mouflon meet, and in these areas you get Ladakh Urials and Afghan Urials. These are the species we have here at Skookumhorse Ranch. These Hybrids are Tough, tougher than any other species of sheep I raise, let them be born in the snow, miss a worming, hard feet, and never get sick, they can survive anything us Canadians or our Climate can throw at them.
There are six subspecies of Urials, and only three in North America that I am aware of.
The original imports of Urial sheep was done by the San Diego Zoo and their sheep came from a transition zone in North Eastern Iran between the Transcaspian Urials and the Ladakh Urial, so the first imports were a mix of both types of Urials. So if someone tells you they have "Pure Transcaspian Sheep" they are not being 100% truthful, as all Urials in North America came from this original Group. If you ever see photos of the Transcaspian Sheep in the San Diego Zoo, you will see some of them with heavy Back Manes on the bottom just like Afghan Urial. Photos of wild Transcaspian Urials from Iran have virtually no black in their manes, except maybe a bit at the armpits and along sides separating the red body colour from the white belly. The biggest difference is just the coat color between a Transcaspian, Ladakh Urial and the Afghan Urial. So if the Transcaspian Urial genes exist, with dedication and selective breeding over the last decade, some Ranchers and sheep breeders have only been breeding and choosing the selective traits for that species, and are breeding Transcaspian Urials that LOOK exactly like they are pure, and when this is properly done, they pretty much are pure for all intended purposes.
What is a Transcaspian Urial Technically?
Sought after by serious sheep hunters for centuries in their native homelands, this sheep has comparable status to the mighty Marco-Polo Argali as a must have by the serious sheep hunters/collectors. This native wild species of Urial sheep is limited to the Ustjurt-Plateau (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and northern Iran) and western Kazakhstan. There horn curl deep and often times reaching 40" in one curl. The horns are Blond in colour, and they carry a solid white Neck Mane from their chin to between their front legs.
Like I talk about above there are no Pure Transcaspians in North America, so the body colour can vary a bit, and it is still called a Transcaspian Urial. A pure Transcaspian Urial is a bright-coloured, very attractive Urial. Adult rams have the long white bib, Neck mane or ruff as some call it. Immature males have a smaller, dark neck ruff and the upper parts are uniformly tawny-brown, not until 2 years of age will they mature and develop the white neck mane. In the summer, the neck ruff are less or even non-existent. They have a rump patch, white muzzle, white belly and lower legs with a dark stripe separating the belly and upper body. There is no saddle patch in Pure animals, but some males will have a dark shoulder spot in winter coat, just behind the front leg at the armpit.