The Tsurcana sheep (Ovis aries) is sometimes also known as the Valachian sheep. It is a multi-purpose breed raised for milk, meat and wool production. The sheep were domesticated in the Carpathians Mountains of Romania, where the Tsurcana was first established as a breed. It can now be found throughout central Europe thanks to the movement of flocks through Alpine grazing areas. There are three sub-varieties: white, gray and black. The white Tsurcana, which can have black spots on the face and limbs, is the specific population from the breeding area of Sibiu in central Romania and is the most famous. The breed is medium sized with medium to long legs and a narrow head. Rams weigh 60 – 80 kg, and ewes 40 – 55 kg. Rams and approximately half of ewes have horns. The sheep have coarse, rough wool, with staples (or locks of wool) reaching 25-35 cm in length. The Tsurcana breed is highly adapted to rough mountains, hills and plains. It is a hardy breed that can survive well in bad weather, due to its highly water resistant fleece and its ability to cover long distances in search of food. The breed is also very disease resistant. These traits are thanks to the natural selection methods of the shepherds, who have chosen the strong Tsurcana sheep for their transhumance routes. The animals are raised for their milk, meat and wool. Milk has a fat percentage of around 7.5% and a protein percentage of 6%. The milk is used to create other products, like the Slow Food Presidium cheese Branza de Burduf. Meat from older sheep is often consumed after being transformed into pastrama, while young lambs are eaten only during Eater celebrations. The sheep’s wool is mainly used in carpet making. Today, the breed can be found throughout the Carpathian Mountains, but is at risk of being lost due to the increase in the use of foreign breeds and crossbreeding.
Image: © Bert Reinders