Purebred Sjenica Zeckel Sheep
Breeds and animal husbandry - Serbia
The Sjenica sheep is a long-tailed strain of the Zeckel sheep breed found in western and central Serbia and northern Montenegro that is raised for milk, meat and wool production. This sheep has a small body mass with low milk (60-80 liters per lactation) and wool production (1.25 kg per head) levels, but with good fertility and larger than other stains of Zeckel sheep. Rams average 60 kg at maturity, and ewes 55 kg. Rams average 70 cm tall at the withers, and ewes 65 cm. Sjenica Zeckel sheep usually have white, but very rarely black fleece, and dark rings around the eyes and a dark muzzle and ears, and males are typically horned. The unimproved population of this breed is considered to be critically at risk, with this population numbering only about 100 head in 2014, generally kept in herds of 10-50 sheep. During the summer, the sheep graze in meadows, while in the winter they are fed with locally grown hay. Due to harsh climate conditions, the Sjenica Zeckel is a very resistant sheep. It is mainly kept for household use, and mainly for meat production as opposed to milk production. The Serbian long-tailed Zeckel sheep are believed to have originated from the Arkali sheep of Asia Minor, and this breed can be found throughout the Balkans. The Sjenica strain is mainly found in the highland territory of the Pester-Sjenica Plateau. Efforts to improve the wool yields of Serbian sheep in the 20th century had a negative effect on other characteristics of many breeds, especially milk production and fattening capability. More recently, crosses of Sjenica sheep with Wirtemberg sheep in an attempt to create a better meat producer has also threatened the traditional uses of this sheep. Today, official records documenting Sjenica Zeckel sheep also count the improved populations, which are not the original purebred sheep, but those that have been crossed. These new sheep are less adapted for making traditional products of the Sjenica highlands, such as the Sjenica white cheese, as milk production drops as people switch to the production of lambs for meat. As highland producers have little organizational or economic power to invest in modern dairies for cheese production, and the traditional small-scale cheese production lacks support, many producers are giving up and leaving the area. While meat from the breed is appreciated, a local independent association certifying meat from the breed has been slow to get started, and there are copycats on the market selling products under the Sjenica name that are not directly connected to this strain of sheep.