Churra Algarvia Sheep

on February 22, 2019

The Churra Algarvia sheep is native to the Algarve region, on Portugal’s southern coast. These sheep are large animals, long bodied with a convex profile and coarse white wool. Ewes weigh between 40 and 60 kg, and males between 60 and 80 kg. Their skin is white, with a characteristic pigmentation forming black patches around the eyes, lips and muzzle. Their medium sized ears or ear tips are also black, and their tall legs often have black patches. Most animals also have pigmentation in the tongue and palate. Their fleece is white and coarse, not too dense, and covers the sheep’s bodies and necks, but not their heads. Wool clusters (called staples) are long (from 20 to 30 cm), pointy and open. The sheep’s heads are relatively small and without wool, with a flat forehead and wide eyes. The ridged horns are not very big in ewes, but are well developed in rams in horizontally projected wide spirals. Herds usually move in transhumance, a seasonal pastoral migration, along Algarve’s Barrocal region. At the higher pastures the sheep also receive a supplemental feed of cereal that is grown locally. In the past, the breed was raised for its lean flavorful meat, for its milk used to make cheese and its wool that was used for stuffing mattresses. The historical production area is in central Algarve, from Castro Marim to Lagos, with small herds along the coast and in the mountains. The breed is native to the area that stretches from the hills of Jerez in the south of Spain to Sagres in the Algarve. 95% of Churra Algarvia sheep are raised in the traditional production area. The species suffered a decline with the introduction of more productive breeds that are more profitable for middlemen and butchers. In 1999 there were approximately 5270 sheep in the herd register, while today there are just over 2000 animals. Churra Algarvia sheep meat is for sale, but on a very small scale by middlemen and small butchers. The total annual production is probably around 3,000 lambs, but only half of the production is legally commercialized. The majority of consumers have no knowledge of the breed, frequently mistaking it for goat meat.

Source: Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity

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