Breznik Sheep

Breeds and animal husbandry - Bulgaria

The Breznik sheep (Breznishka ovtsa) is an indigenous Bulgarian breed belonging to the group of long, thin-tailed sheep breeds. The main area of distribution is western Bulgaria, in the municipalities of Pernik, Radomir, Breznik and Kyustendil. The animals have a rectangular body, well covered with wool. The chest is deep and broad. The head is of a straight profile, wool-covered to the eye-line. The ears are erect and black or spotted. Male animals are usually hornless. The tail is long and reaching the hock joint. The fleece is white in color, and the face is white with black spots around the eyes and the muzzle. The legs can be white or black. The live body weight in ewes is 50-60 kg, while in rams it is 70-90 kg. Dairy productivity is 60-88 kg per lactation. The milk is used mainly for preparation of traditional white brine cheese (бяло саламурено сирене) and Bulgarian yogurt (българско кисело мляко). Both products are highly valuated by the local people for their unique taste and health benefits. The breed’s name comes from the town of Breznik, in the area of which the breed was developed by hundreds of years of traditional selection. The main trait selected by breeding was the high quality of milk for making cheese and yogurt. Other traits important for the breeders were their very good adaptation to the local weather conditions, better digestion of lower quality local forage compared to imported breeds, and higher resistance to some infections (such as foot rot). The Breznik sheep was widespread in the region around the town of Breznik and in the Western Stara Planina (Balkan Mountains). Breznik’s fields are even and flat, located in a valley at an altitude of 700 meters. Winters are relatively cold, summers are cool, most rain falls in spring and autumn. This indigenous breed is very well adapted to the local climate and landscape. It is a triple-use breed (milk, meat and wool). Despite its many qualities and connection to the area, Breznik sheep are being replaced by imported, more productive breeds, or vanishing due to genetic erosion. The Breznik sheep is one of the breeds in western Bulgarian with the smallest populations, with about 800 ewes and 24 rams in nine flocks under breeding control in 2011. The human population in the production area is predominately comprised of elderly people. The relatively harsh life of a shepherd and lack of social infrastructure in remote villages and farms alienates younger people from continuing this line of work, threatening the future of this sheep breed.