Karakul or Qaraqul (named after Qorako‘l, a city in Bukhara Province in Uzbekistan) is a breed of domestic sheep which originated in Central Asia. Some archaeological evidence points to Karakul sheep being raised there continuously since 1400 BC.
Hailing from the desert regions of Central Asia, Karakul sheep are renowned for their ability to forage and thrive under extremely harsh living conditions. They can survive severe drought conditions because of a special quality they have, storing fat in their tails. Karakul are also raised in large numbers in Namibia, having first been brought there by German colonists in the early 20th century. They are currently listed as endangered.
Use by humans
Karakul sheep are a multi-purpose breed, kept for milking, meat, pelts, and wool. As a fat-tailed breed, they have a distinctive meat. Many adult Karakul are double-coated; in this case, spinners separate the coarse guard hair from the undercoat. Karakul is a relatively coarse fiber used for outer garments, carpets and for felting.
Very young or even fetal Karakul lambs are prized for pelts. Newborn karakul sheep pelts are called karakul (also spelled caracul), swakara (portmanteau of South West Africa Karakul), astrakhan (Russian and French), Persian lamb, agnello di Persia, (Italian), krimmer (Russian) and garaköli bagana (Turkmen). Sometimes the terms for newborn lambs' and fetal lambs' pelts are used interchangeably. The newborn lambs have a tight, curly pattern of hair. The lambs must be under three days old when they are killed, or they will lose their black color and soft, tightly wound coils of fur. Dark colors are dominant and lambs often darken in color as they age. Fetal karakul lamb pelts are called broadtail, Breitschwanz (German), and karakulcha. Fetal karakul lambs are harvested through miscarriages, induced early delivery or by killing the mother sheep and removing the fetus. Rather than killing healthy female sheep, farmers will kill older sheep that have already given birth many times. People use the lamb pelts to create various clothing items, such as the Astrakhan or karakul hat. The pelts have also been used in haute couture. An Astrakhan collar has been used on women's suits and on expensive overcoats. King George V had a beaver-lined overcoat with an astrakhan collar that was later worn by his son, the Duke of Windsor. The astrakhan collar has appeared in more recent men's fashions, and astrakhan has been featured more extensively in the form of a Formula One-style driving suit made primarily of astrakhan.
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