Karakul sheep

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Karakul sheep in Akron Zoo

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.[1]

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.[2] They are currently listed as endangered.[2]

Use by humans[edit]

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Founder of Pakistan, wearing a Karakul hat
U.S. Department of Agriculture was conducting breeding experiments in 1936. A government breeding expert, is shown with one of the prize rams imported from Bokhara, Central Asia

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.[citation needed]

Karakul pelts[edit]

Washing of slaughtered lambs in Namibia

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.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5] Rather than killing healthy female sheep, farmers will kill older sheep that have already given birth many times.[5] People use the lamb pelts to create various clothing items, such as the Astrakhan or karakul hat.[6] The pelts have also been used in haute couture.[7][8] An Astrakhan collar has been used on women's suits[9] 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.[10] 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.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Karakul". Breeds of Livestock. Oklahoma State University, Dept. of Animal Science. Retrieved 2009-04-17.
  2. ^ a b Forde, Kevin (2018-11-20). "Weird Sheep Breeds - Karakul Sheep | THATSFARMING.COM". That's Farming. Retrieved 2019-07-26.
  3. ^ "HSUS Investigation: Karakul Sheep and Lamb Slaughter for the Fur Trade" (PDF). The Humane Society of the United States. March 2001 [July 2000]. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-07-25. Retrieved 2009-04-17.
  4. ^ "Karakul Sheep: Bright-eyed and Broad-tailed". Hobby Farms. Retrieved 25 June 2016.
  5. ^ a b Wilson, Eric (11 August 2005). "The Lamb on the Runway". New York Times. Retrieved 25 June 2016.
  6. ^ Associated Press (April 24, 2002). "Hamid Karzai's Famous Hat Made From Aborted Lamb Fetuses". Fox News. Archived from the original on May 1, 2008. Retrieved April 17, 2009.
  7. ^ "Astrakhan: Hot "New" Fashion is the Same Old Cruelty". The Humane Society of the United States. August 12, 2005. Archived from the original on June 12, 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-17.
  8. ^ Associated Press (May 27, 2007). "Karakuls burst upon the fashion world". Taipei Times. Retrieved 2009-04-17.
  9. ^ "Blue suit with astrakhan collar & hat". nzfashionmuseum.org.nz. Retrieved 2018-12-20.
  10. ^ Furlaud, Alice (1986-12-25). "Windsor's Paris Home to Become Museum". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-12-20.
  11. ^ Wilson, Eric (2012-01-17). "Men's Designers Get Their Pelts: Astrakhan Fur Appeals to Men's Wear Designers". On the Runway Blog. Retrieved 2018-12-20.

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