Sheep breeds
Pyrenees Dairy

Manech Tête Noire - Crédit : DR
Manech Tête Noire - Crédit : DR
Summary of the article

 Traits and performances

The Red-Face Manech is the Pyrenean dairy sheep breed with the largest population. It is traditionally raised in foothill areas. Next is the Black-Face Manech, which is most often found in mountainous areas. Finally, the Basco-Béarnaise, which is also found most often in mountainous areas, has a larger build than the Manech.

Although the Red-Face Manech still stands out as the highest dairy milk producer, all three breeds share an adaptability to high-altitude transhumance routes and extreme temperature variations. These qualities, along with the low-maintenance needs of the ewes, make these Pyrenees dairy sheep breeds particularly well adapted to transhumance. The use of summer pastures is indeed essential in these Western Pyrenees regions where farms are typically very small.

The Black-Face Manech and the Basco-Béarnaise spend more time in the summer pastures and at higher altitudes than the Red-Face Manech which, as a result of a more pronounced dairy specialization, has populated the more productive Basque upland slopes.

The ewes are easy to milk and used to produce the AOC cheese Ossau-Iraty, or cheeses using a mixture of ewe and cow milk.


Set up in 1975, the selection programme for these breeds allows breeders to achieve levels of productivity that fully justify such these farming practices in difficult areas.

This programme uses the means that are best suited: milk testing and broad implementation of AI in the selection flocks, gathering young rams for selection in breeding centres, ram progeny testing of rams for milk output (quantity and now also composition), joint use of natural servicing and artificial insemination with favourably tested ram semen in commercial flocks.

The results are convincing, with annual genetic progress from 2.5 litres for the Black-Face Manech and the Basco-Béarnaise to over 4 litres for the Red-Face Manech.


Key figures

  • 94,421 ewes under milk recording system
  • 37,400 ewes under official milk recording system
  • 274,000 ewes
  • 61,458 artificial inseminations
  • Adult ewe weight:
    45 to 55 kg
  • Adult ram weight:
    55 to 70 kg
  • Milk yield: 219.5 liters (in 161 days)
  • 80,000 ewes
  • 6,317 artificial inseminations
  • Adult ewe weight: 65 kg
  • Adult ram weight: 80 kg
  • Milk yield : 161.5 liters (in 147 days)
  • 78,000 ewes
  • 14,802 artificial inseminations
  • Adult ewe weight:
    45 to 55 kg
  • Adult ram weight:
    55 to 70 kg
  • Milk yield: 195.2 liters (in 151 days)

Official milk recording results 2014 - Institut de l’Elevage & CNBL


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