The Rasa Aragonesa breed, which owes its name to the region where it is of most
importance, as well as to the length of its wool ('rasa' = threadbare), contains sheep of
a subconvex profile, mediolinear proportions, and variable size according to the areas it
inhabits. It is raised mainly for its meat.
The head of the breed is free of wool and neither sex has horns. Wool-free areas are
covered with fine, shiny white hair. The size is variable depending on the type and areas
where raised. Nonetheless, it can be considered that adult rams will weigh 50-70 kg. and
ewes 35-40 kg., for the Monegrina ecotype. Other strains will have rams at 65-85 kg. and
ewes at 40-50 kg.
Ecotypes.-Various ecotypes can be distinguished among the Rasa Aragonesa, whose names
proceed from the area they inhabit: Rasa Monegrina (from Los Monegros); Turolense
(province of Teruel); Ansotana (Anso Valley). It is, however, true that they do not
pertain exactly to these areas. Another ecotype must be added to this group, one that is
modern and that has evolved from the others, and which lives in the fertile areas of the
region. This new strain, called Mejorada ('Improved') is increasing the census
considerably, in some areas endangering its purity due to numerous instances of
uncontrollable crossbreedings that are taking place.
The Monegrina ecotype, whose numbers are currently low, is smaller as a result of the
quite harsh environment in which it is raised. On the other hand, the Turolense is bigger,
with elongated shapes and greater length of extremities. The Mejorada strain is more
compact. Yet the sharpest differences are to be found between the three types mentioned
and the Ansotana, considering the characteristics of the fleece of this latter strain,
being formed of elongated and pointed strands, with long and uneven fibers. This has led
to the situation whereby the Roncales variety in Navarra, very similar to the Ansotana, is
called the 'Navarran Churra'.
Origin and History
Traditionally, and as defined by certain ethnologists, Spanish sheep breeds of medium
quality wool are considered to have originated from the crossbreeding of fine-wool strains
(Merino) and those with coarse wool (Churra and Lacha). This viewpoint is overly
simplistic. Although it is possible that with the origin of the Rasa Aragonesa there may
have been a certain Merino and Churra component, it is necessary to look for the presence
of other stock in its formation. Along these lines, note must be taken of primitive
cirtoid sheep, of white color and medium quality wool, which gave rise to a group of
French breeds who show notable coincidences with the Rasa Aragonesa (the Lacaune, Central
Mountain White, Prealpine, etc.); it seems possible that this same breed, as it spread
toward the south, was the originator of the breed in question.
The Rasa Aragonesa
has been influenced by other breeding stock, which in times past was dedicated to
improving the wool, a product that received special attention. For a good number of years,
its selection was the focus of work carried out by the Regional Wool Producing Center of
Aragon. During the 1970s and 1980s, as its meat value has increased and its
wool value decreased, work with the breed has been directed toward the industrial former
quality. The result is that there has been frequent industrial crossbreeding with rams of
meat-producing specialty. In view of this situation, the Genealogical Register for the
Rasa Aragonesa was established by Resolution of the General Office of Agricultural
Production, June 30, 1981, with the goal of intensifying selection, while protecting and
promoting purebred offspring. This Register is kept by the National Association of
Breeders of Select Rasa Aragonesa Livestock, as a Collaborating Agency of the Ministry of
Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food Production.
Importance and Geographical Spread
According to the official 1982 census, the Rasa Aragonesa numbered 2,777,190 head, of
which 2,202,838 were over one year of age. This makes it second-ranked by number among
Spanish breeds, following the Merino, and representing 16.2% of the national total.
In the face of a strong trend toward a decline in the Spanish sheep population, the
Rasa Aragonesa has remained stabilized -or even showing a slight increase- during recent
years. This alone reflects the importance of the breed, the only sheep that is able to
make use of the resources of the arid parts of the region. Elsewhere, it represents the
main source of income to a large number of families in the countryside.
It is found
over a wide area, consisting of almost all of the three Aragonese provinces, as well as
the extensive area of Navarra that is not occupied by the Lacha, the southern part of
Alava, eastern Logrono and Soria; it also lives in western Lerida, a large section of the
province of Tarragona, and the northwest of Castellon de la Plana. In short, it occupies
the, greater part of the Ebro basin.
Qualities and Aptitudes
Among the outstanding qualities of the Rasa Aragonesa are its high degree of
ruggedness, gregarious instinct, pasturing ability, and adaptability to the harsh
environment in which it is raised.
The habitat of the Rasa Aragonesa is basically characterized by a continental climate
with a low level of unevenly-distributed rainfall (some 400 mm.), freezes between October
and April, land with extremely varied terrain (valleys, tablelands, the Pyrenean slopes,
and mountain ranges), dry-farm lands where the main crop is cereals, and irrigated lands
where the sheep go only in the fall and winter. Xerophytic pasture lands of Mediterranean
type, holm-oak scrub lands, plains and tablelands with thyme, esparto, and gorse complete
the make-up of the harsh and hostile environment where the Rasa Aragonesa is raised.
Rasa Aragonesa produces the commonest slaughter lamb of Aragon, called
"Ternasco". To be recognized as "Ternasco of Aragon" (Specific
Designation of the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, 1992) the lamb must have a live weight
of 18 to 24 kg at slaughter. Slaughtering will take place with the animals of 70 to 90
days of age. The feeding of the lambs must be done in confinement with mother milk
supplemented ad libitum with white straw and concentrates authorized by the Regulatory
Council. The characteristics of the meat after slaughter are:
- Carcass weight: 8.5-11.5 kg
- Fat: White outer fat with firm consistence. White internal fat covering at least
half of the kidney but never the whole of it.
- Conformation: Rectilinear profile and somewhat sub-convex.
- Color of the meat: Light pink
- Characteristics of the meat: Tender meat with initial fat infiltration on the
intermuscular level, highly juicy and soft in texture, ending up a very pleasant bouquet.
The Rasa Aragonesa produces a fleece of medium-quality wool, white in color and with
square strands, of type IV-V on the Spanish wool scale. The most outstanding
characteristics of this product are as follows:
Diameter (microns) 25-28
Length (cm.) 6-7
Fleece wgt- (kg.) 1.8-3
Yield upon deep washing (%) 43-47
Dr. Alfonso Abecia and Dr. Jose-Maria Lozano, Departamento de Produccion Animal,
Facultad de Veterinaria, Miguel Servet, 177, 50013 Zaragoza, Spain.
ANGRA, Bē Movera, Cra. Pastriz km. 3.6 ZARAGOZA -50194- SPAIN
Asociacion Nacional de Ganaderos de la raza Rasa Aragonesa