Last update: December 2, 2010 09:23:43 AM E-mail Print


Scientific production and reproduction norms for AFRINO sheep


Gretha Snyman

Grootfontein Agricultural Development Institute, Private Bag X529, Middelburg (E.C.), 5900


The Afrino is a white woolled mutton breed developed for slaughter lamb and wool production under extensive conditions.



During the late 1960's, a request was made to the Department of Agriculture by the wool industry, via the South African Agricultural Union, to develop a white woolled breed for the extensive sheep grazing areas.

This breed :

Consequently, a breeding project was initiated at the Carnarvon Ex­perimental Station in the North-western Karoo in 1969, whereby it was attempted to develop a white woolled mutton sheep, which combined the quality wool of the Merino with the reproductive performance and mutton producing abilities of the mutton breeds.

In 1976 it was evident that the cross consisting of 25% Merino, 25% Ronderib Afrikaner and 50% SA Mutton Merino best fulfilled the requirements set for the new breed. It was decided to retain only this cross for further upgrading and development of the breed that is today known as the Afrino. On 5 February 1980, the Afrino Sheep Breeders' Society was established at a meeting on the Carnarvon Experimental Station and breed standards for this new white woolled mutton breed were drawn up.



The aim of a breeding programme for Afrino sheep is to increase efficiency of both slaughter lamb and wool production. Attention is given to quality as well as quantity of the product. In Afrino sheep 80 % of income is generated through meat production and 20 % through wool production. The main selection objective is therefore to increase the weight of lamb produced per ewe over her lifetime.



In all breeds which have to produce and reproduce under adverse or sub-optimum environments, hardiness and adaptability are of paramount importance. Breeders are obliged to ensure that genetically superior and environmentally well-adapted animals are continuously available to the industry.


Why is the Afrino hardy and adaptable ?



In the selection programme, emphasis is placed not only on the number of lambs produced, but also on their quality. Therefore, lifetime total weight of lamb produced per ewe is the main selection objective. Afrino ewes have outstanding mothering abilities and even in flocks where 500 - 600 ewes are lambing, bottle-fed lambs will rarely be found. Lambing difficulties are also extremely rare.



The breed is known for its high quality meat with an even fat distribution over the carcass. Lambs do not accumulate fat at an early age and can therefore be marketed at a later stage and a higher body weight. Average marketing age is 7 - 8 months under extensive conditions. Under feedlot or favourable conditions, lambs reach marketing weight as early as three months of age.


The Afrino produces Merino type wool, with a fibre diameter ranging from 19 to 22 micron. During selection, much emphasis is placed on wool quality (fibre diameter, crimp definition, clean yield), while care is taken not to decrease the amount of wool produced.


Research results

The Afrino Breeder’s Society is working in close co-operation with animal breeding scientists and selection programmes are based on scientific results. Several research projects on Afrino sheep are being done or have been completed by the Department of Agriculture. The Afrino flock at the Carnarvon Experimental Station consists of 200 breeding ewes and is used primarily for the investigation of suitable selection criteria for Afrino sheep under extensive conditions.

Research results obtained in this Afrino flock, run under similar conditions as in which the majority of Afrino’s have to produce and reproduce commercially, are applied in practice. For example, the Afrino is the first South African sheep breed in which the separation of ram and ewe selection objectives had been investigated and applied. Rams are selected on growth and fleece traits and ewes on reproductive traits, which incorporates fertility and mothering ability.


Scientific production and reproduction norms

The average production performance of Afrino ram and ewe lambs, recorded from 1975 to 1994 under extensive conditions in the Carnarvon Afrino flock, is summarised in Table 1. In Table 2 the average performance of the reproducing ewes in the same flock is presented, while the average slaughter traits for Afrino lambs at Carnarvon are given in Table 3.


Table 1. Average production of Afrino ram and ewe lambs under extensive conditions in the Carnarvon Afrino flock (1975 - 1994)




Birth weight (kg)



100-day weaning weight (kg)



8-month body weight (kg)



12-month body weight (kg)



18-month body weight (kg)



16-month clean fleece weight (kg)



16-month fibre diameter (µ)



Average daily gain from birth to 100 days (g/day)




Table 2. Average performance of reproducing Afrino ewes under extensive conditions in the Carnarvon Afrino flock (1985 - 1996)

Body weight

60.0 kg

Raw fleece weight

2.90 kg

Clean fleece weight 

1.80  kg

Fibre diameter

21.8  µ

Clean yield percentage

62.0  %

Staple length 

76.6  cm

Lambs born/ewe mated

142  %

Lambs born/ewe lambing

152  %

% Stillborn lambs

3.4  %

Lamb survival rate

94  %

Lambs weaned/ewe mated

137 %

Milk production 4 weeks post partum

2.2  litre/day  (1995)

Milk production 8 weeks post partum

1.5  litre/day  (1995)

Total weight of lamb weaned/ewe/year

40.7  kg


Table 3. Average growth and slaughter traits for Afrino lambs at Carnarvon (1986 - 1991)

Slaughter weight 

2.1 kg

Average daily gain (birth to slaughter)

184 g/day

Age at slaughter

223 days

Carcass weight

19.8 kg

Dressing percentage

47.1 %


Genetic improvement in the Carnarvon Afrino flock                  

By utilising performance testing information, it was possible to genetically increase body weight and lifetime total weight of lamb weaned, while simultaneously decrease fibre diameter in the Carnarvon Afrino flock. The genetic trends in fibre diameter, weaning weight and lifetime total weight of lamb weaned in this flock are illustrated in Figure 1.

Fig 1. Genetic trends in fibre diameter, weaning weight and lifetime total weight of lamb weaned in the Carnarvon Afrino flock


Next month we will discuss some scientifically based breeding plans for Afrino sheep.