Meet Central Asia’s giant and wildly expensive Arashan sheep

An Arashan ram named Sharpei in Kyrgyzstan. Screenshot from YouTube channel. Fair use.

On March 13, 2023, Kazakhstan’s Book of Records recognized a 230-kilogram ram named Million as the heaviest in the country. At four years old, Million’s height is already 1.05 meters tall, a gigantic size for sheep. It is expected that he will grow even larger, as rams are known to hit their physical peaks at six years old and beyond.

Here is an Instagram post with Million.

Million’s name derives from the price, KGS 1 million (USD 11,200), for which he was first sold as a lamb in Kyrgyzstan. His current owner Kuanysh Myktybaev, a farmer from the Turkestan region located in Kazakhstan’s south, bought him from farmers in the neighboring Kyrgyzstan for USD 30,000. Myktybaev is famous for purchasing expensive animals. In 2021, he bought another ram named Kashtan for KZT 18 million (USD 40,000 at the exchange rate of those days).

Here is an Instagram post with Kashtan.

Both Million and Kashtan represent special breeds of sheep from Central Asia. Million is an Arashan breed from Kyrgyzstan, whereas Kashtan is a Hissar breed from Tajikistan.

In April 2021, Kyrgyzstan’s Ministry of Agricultural, Water, and Regional Development registered Arashan sheep as a separate breed. It was named after the village in the Chui region in Kyrgyzstan’s north where it was bred in the last forty years. The breeding process started in the 1970s using rams from the Hissar breed imported from the neighboring Tajikistan with the local coarse-haired ewes. Thirty-three researchers, farmers, and agricultural specialists contributed to this selection and breeding achievement.

Arashan sheep have excellent meat and lard qualities, which makes them essential to  Central Asian cuisine, where lamb meat and lard are used extensively in many dishes. They are highly adaptable and can live in various weather and terrain conditions, including cold weather of high mountains areas and hot days of valley steppes.

Arashan sheep are characterized by their humped noses, large ears, tall and long bodies, strong constitution, and strong bones. Their most prized feature is the speed with which they grow and accumulate meat and lard. The weight of 7–8 month old lambs is 48–61 kg, one-year-olds weigh 60–78 kg, and an adult ram weighs between 109 and 177 kg.

At the time of the registration, there were 5,832 Arashap sheep in Kyrgyzstan, making them a rare and exclusive breed. Adding to their value is their record breaking size. Before the registration of the Arashan breed, the Hissar breed was known as the largest in the world in terms of height and weight. It is common for Arashan rams to grow taller than a meter high and weigh more than 200 kg.

Here is an Instagram post with an Arashan ram named Fox.

Arashan sheep’s low number, impressive size, and the fast speed at which they grow has made them one of the most sought after commodities on the Central Asian animal market. Several-month-old lambs cost more than a thousand dollars, ewes are sold for the whopping price of USD 7000–10,000, and the price for rams seems to have no limit.

Here is a YouTube video with details about raising Arashan sheep in Kyrgyzstan.

Some owners admit being offered hundreds of thousands of dollars for their 3–4 year old rams. Considering that one ram can inseminate more than a hundred ewes in one mating season and the average price of several thousand dollars for each lamb, that kind of investment promises to pay off in a couple of years. Currently, Arashan sheep are sold to farmers in Kazakhstan, Russia, and Uzbekistan.

Here is a YouTube video about an Arashan ram named Bayar, for which its owner was  offered USD 200,000.

Arashan sheep fit well into the modern day reality of shrinking pasture and farming land in Central Asia. Their fast maturing translates into less pressure on vital resources such as grass, grains, and water. As their numbers grow, their prices are expected to drop, making them a staple in farms across the region.

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