History & Breed Development in Australia
While the initial hybrids were basically, Type (1) White Dorper Ram x Persian Ewe, it was the Persian ewe component that produced the typical mini with a smaller body, short hair and a short tail. It was a luxury to use Persian ewes in this way being that they were a rare breed in the first place. The Genelink Stud produced consistent cleanskin Dorper rams as early as 2000.
The Type (2) Persian Ram x White Dorper Ewes however produced a different type that were mostly bigger, prone to back wool and long tails. All Type (2) ram lambs were culled for meat being that they were too large and big muscled. Some of the Type (2) females mated back to the preferred Type (1) hybrid ram soon bought type back into uniformity. No further Type (2) crosses were used to develop the Harlequin Mini breed.
Once Identified the Type (1) Harlequin Mini was developed for a place in the recreational breeder market with smaller sheep easy to handle and easy to care for with short tails and short hair in Summer. One of their appealing qualities was and still is the fact they are not excessively muscled which is a characteristics that turns Dorpers into battering rams when husbandry procedures are carried out destroying human knees, elbows and sometimes jaws in the drenching race.
While described as a Meat Sheep, it was adequately provided for in the original cross and should not be further developed for heavy hind quarters or more muscle. This would somewhat defeat the purpose and suitability for recreational breeders. They are accepted in the meat market as is with lambs, making the same per kilo price as other breeds of lambs. The ideal live weight is around 40-44kg.
While there are some ideals to aim for the size for registration has not yet been set. There should be a preference for smaller rams to eventually bring size down a bit further in the future, but there are some very nice taller ewes with good colour and type that will produce smaller lambs when mated to the right ram, and it is too early in the development of the breed to remove good sheep from the gene pool based purely on size.
Size can be affected a lot by environment, with high rainfall areas producing generally smaller sheep. Cold areas with big Spring feed and low Summer protein will also produce smaller stock as will areas that have consistent worm problems. The caution is that size standards should not be set by stock size in these areas. As the breed develops and more breeders become involved nation wide, size will be recorded to gather the more information.
Fat is an essential part of seasonal storage. While some breeders don't like a lot of tail fat like the Persian some fat should be allowed as an indicator of being able to do the hard yards when the season dries off. Moderate tail fat is allowable with no penalty on ewes and should not be excessive in rams.
Any colour and colour combination is allowable. A range of colours is part of the joy of lambing especially for this recreational breed. White is dominant in the African Fat Tailed breeds which the Harlequin Mini has been derived from, so when wanting to breed for more colour variations it is not advised to use white rams. Black head is also dominant but they also produce multi-coloured offspring. Generally colour rules do not apply with the Harlequin Minis but if continuing to breed with animals of a certain colour it will become dominant eventually.
The original imports from Africa all seemed to have feet problems with some curling, some slanting off to the side and some just long. there is an environmental influence on long feet but extremes are genetic. Curly and side slanting feet have proven to be genetic and all rams with these issues should be castrated and/or culled. these issues usually show up within the first six months. Culling and being very selective with choosing rams will help to eventually eliminate these faults.
Horns are mainly a problem with rams but are rare due to being developed from the Dorper gene pool. Any with horns or heavy scurs should be castrated and not used for breeding the Harlequin Mini. Light scurs that break off are acceptable and issues will develop if using a horned type ram for breeding.
It is not relevant how much wool or chunky hair is grown in Winter which often begins growing in February. The important thing is that it comes off in Spring and Summer. Shedding is influenced by condition and many factors can have an affect on this process. Low nutrition can cause it to stick, as well as worms, genetics and a late cold and wet season. Shedding often begins as early as July but then stop again and further winter coat grows in August. The shedded hair/wool can hang on until October to November depending on climate and should be completely shed by Summer. It is helpful if there is some shrubbery available to help with the shedding process. If any carry access wool, especially rams, it is not advisable to use them for breeding.
Jaw issues are highly heritable and should be controlled by culling. The Dorper breed in South Africa had a tolerance measurement for jaw fault but this ensured the problem became a major fault with the breed and it was costly to eradicate with culling early importations. All rams and ewes wshould ith jaw problems should be culled.
For the initial registration of Harlequin Mini Meat Sheep the breeder must show some linkage to the original Genelink foundation flock.
The Breeder will need to provide:
- Tag number
- Date of Birth if known or year of birth. An estimate of age is acceptable for foundation stock.
- Any pedigree details on hand (or name of source of breeding animals)
- A photo of the animal to be registered preferably in the summer
Head - Wide and level between the ears showing some softness, face should be straight and not twisted.
Carriage - Legs - straight, and well placed at corners. No tolerance for hocky or bowlegs.
Shoulders, Chest & Back - Shoulder well laid into the ribs and level to the back. Chest deep. Some small variation allowed from shoulder to tail (reflecting fattail ancestry) with a slight slope of the croup.
Loin- Long, wide and thick without excess muscle.
Ribs - Should be deep and wide, thick through the heart girth and well sprung.
Rump, Croup & Tail - Rump of medium width and of medium length, with only a slight slope of the croup. Tail is small by preference and ending well above the hocks.
Height- 45CM- 61CM is ideal. (recommendation only) Lambing without difficulty is one of the qualities of the Mini Harlequin.
Skin & Hair – Should be covered by fine shiny hair in summer. Longer hair or wool/down is quite acceptable in the winter coat providing it sheds off in Spring/Summer. Skin of a delicate grey to bright pink on off-white sheep and of dark tones on black sheep.
Colours - All colours are acceptable with no restriction.
Rams - Rams should look more masculine and are usually larger than ewes. They must have both testicles descended. If one or both are not, it is a cull fault and the ram must be neutered. Rams should not carry wool on their back in the summer of the first year of birth – Conformation is critical in rams and they must be sound.
Ewes - Ewes should have a broad, well-attached, but not pendulous udder with two teats. She should be capable of producing and raising twins. Wool is permitted in the first summer if no bigger than a large man’s hand over the shoulders.
White Dorper Ram and Harlequin Mini Ewe with lamb to show size difference.
Ewes with smaller tails
Ewe Tail in the ideal range
Tail variants in ewes
Ewe with a bigger tail and a light winter coat
Red ewe with a bigger tail and light winter coat shedding (August)
Ewe head showing some loose skin
Red & White ewe