The Comisana is a sheep breed (Ovis aries Linnaeus, 1758) originally from Sicily with an aptitude for milk production.

Systematics –
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
Eukaryota Domain,
Kingdom Animalia,
Phylum Chordata,
Mammalia class,
Order Artiodactyla,
Suborder Ruminantia,
Bovidae family,
Caprinae subfamily,
Genus Ovis,
Species O. aries,
Comisana breed.

Geographic and Area Distribution –
The comisana is a very widespread dairy sheep breed and bred for its excellent and qualitative milk production. This breed is native to Sicily but also finds a lot of diffusion in the farms of the neighboring regions. The areas of greatest breeding are: Sicily, Lombardy, Piedmont and central and southern Italy.
In Sicily, mainly purebred animals are bred, in the rest of Italy the Comisani rams have served to improve the native breeds (for example, in Calabria with the gentle breed of sheep of Puglia, a Calabrian stock).

Origins and History –
The Comisana, also known as “red face”, “red head” or “Lentinese”, is a sheep originally from Sicily, more precisely from the Municipality of Comiso (RG), from which it derives its name and widespread above all in the province of Ragusa and Syracuse. This breed derives from crosses between native Sicilian sheep and different breeds from the Mediterranean. However, the most accredited hypothesis is that it derives from the Maltese breed of sheep, from which it would have inherited its remarkable dairy aptitude.
With genetic selection, the definitive characteristics were then fixed at the beginning of the twentieth century, then seeing the spread of the Comisana sheep in the areas of the plain of Caltanissetta and Agrigento “in purity”, crossed with the local sheep in the province of Enna and Palermo and crossed with the Sardinian breed in the province of Trapani. In general, mass selection has always aimed at milk production.
Moreover, thanks to the breed crossings carried out and the continuous genetic selection, this comisana has reached a high versatility and adaptability to intensive or semi-intensive breeding, although tradition sees the Comisana sheep bred in the wild, being a rustic breed in able to enhance the meager pastures that grow on the Iblei mountains.
The Comisane sheep, together with the Sardinian sheep, have colonized, in the past years, most of the Italian regions, even in territories very different from the original ones. The reason for this success, in particular of the comisana, is given by the great ability to produce high quality milk, even in extreme conditions.

Morphology –
The distinctive somatic feature of the Comisana breed is the red facial mask that extends to the ears and neck. The head can be totally red or outlined by a white front band. The limbs are also red.
It is a medium-large breed with an average height at the withers of 80 cm for males and 70 cm for females. The weight is 80 kg for males and 50 kg for females.
It has a large and long horned head with a sheepskin profile and long, wide and drooping ears.
The trunk is long, the chest broad and prominent, the chest broad, the back straight.
It has long and robust loins and a voluminous belly with long and robust limbs.
Females have large breasts with a broad base of attachment and the skin is fine and greasy. It has a not excessively developed median groove with harmonically developed nipples.
This sheep has a white, extended fleece, excluding the lower abdomen and lower tarsus of the limbs and is semi-closed or semi-open type; the blocks are cylindrical-conical.
Skin: pink, greasy, clear nails.

Productive attitude –
The Comisana is a very popular sheep for the qualitative characteristics of the milk that boasts an excellent protein content and fat content.
When it comes to the purity of the breed, there are two orientations, who breeds in purity and who doesn’t. In both cases, the farmer faces advantages and disadvantages:
– pure breeding means obtaining a higher and constant milk production throughout the year and this allows you to enter into contractual agreements and to have constant and safe income (income is not synonymous with earnings) throughout the year. This last aspect is what leads to having a higher investment capacity in your company;
– Raising mestizo breeds means exploiting heterosis, that is the mating between two genetically different individuals, a practice applied above all for the production of meat as the growth of lambs is very high. Usually the sheep born from a cross, produce less milk, but are characterized by a good functional longevity, that is, they produce for longer than pure ones.
Consider that the mixed breeds have a greater resistance to diseases, this even if it helps is not a solution, as it is always necessary to understand how to avoid the manifestation of the disease (the so-called prophylaxis, pillar of biosecurity).
Therefore, the choice of animals to breed is linked to the objectives that the company has set itself and the related economic evaluation.
As far as milking is concerned, in Sicily, in the past manual milking was very well established, today it is rare, occurring only in small farms. An ancient milking technique involved entering the sheep through a gate to reach the milking station, in the front another gate operated by the milking machine blocked the sheep. This technique was especially useful for primiparas or sheep with particular vices, which tended to flee to prevent the milker from touching the udder (in general all sheep are very jealous of their udder). Manual milking has contributed to the mass selection of sheep in the morphology of the udder, in fact almost all breeds have quite pronounced teats, as they are thus more manageable.
As far as breeding is concerned, they range from the wild to intensive farming, although the most used practice is the semi-extensive one. Depending on the season, the sheep are placed in the stable and provided with food supplements, in addition to grazing grass. This method is essential for productive animals since grass is indeed an exceptional food, but its water content varies on average from 70% to 80%, so that a coverage of needs (in very productive animals) becomes almost impossible. When we talk about food supplementation, we generally refer to the amount of forage on the total ration which varies from 50% to 80%: it goes without saying that both the mowing period and the botanical species present must be carefully chosen.
An important aspect is the quality of the fodder: even if these animals are rustic it does not mean that they have to eat poor quality fodder. In fact, the rusticity of an animal grazing, which therefore adapts to various ecosystems does not imply the fact that it is equally rustic in the stable, in fact the animals that have access to grazing every day do not consume low quality hay as they should, as they do not it would make sense to make a low quality food occupy volume if after a few hours the animals are sent to pasture. Of course this is a very “humanized” reasoning, but if you have the opportunity to observe the behavior in the manger you will be able to appreciate this particular tendency in animals. Therefore, if you want to exploit all the genetic potential of rustic sheep, the ration must be composed of excellent hay (young harvest, therefore not very lignified) and a concentrate characterized by different raw materials (cereals, legumes, highly digestible fibrous foods and any supplements), administering a ration based on actual needs.
The advantages of dietary supplementation in the stable are many: when the animal goes to non-fasting pasture it chooses the best herbs with relative benefits to the quality of the milk, it is less exposed to risks of meteorism and ruminal blockages, due to most of the aimed at the consumption of young and / or wet leguminous plants consumed voraciously, enjoys greater well-being because the animal is satiated during particular climatic adversities (violent rains, excessive heat, excessive wind, etc.) and finds shelter much more willingly than when it is not is, what should not be underestimated in these cases is the greater well-being of the shepherd.
Another advantage, perhaps the most important, is the synergy between the ration consumed in the stable and the grass which has a high nutritional value, but given its water content and its reduced grain size it tends to pass very quickly into other forestomaches: this results in fermentations along the entire gastrointestinal tract. When the grass finds a base (especially forage), it tends to mix with all the contents remaining longer in the rumen, which will thus be able to absorb a greater amount of by-products of bacterial fermentation; in any case, the grass produces a good part of the classic gases of rumen fermentation, which are easily eliminated in the rumen, while this does not happen in the other forestomaches. In this way, greater stability is also obtained in the rumen pH since the rumen, like an engine, works constantly all day long, and this aspect also has a positive effect on the behavior of the animals, which, being calmer, produce more.
The above is valid for all production phases. Particular attention must be paid in critical periods, namely: drying, end of gestation to allow optimal development of the fetus and for the production of a good colostrum, the period that elapses between birth and the production peak to attenuate the physiological energy and protein balance. negative, which would result in a weight loss which, if too pushed, can also lead to ketosis phenomena.
As for the production aspects, in an extensive breeding the milk production is about 70 liters for the primiparous and 100/120 liters for the multiparous ones. In intensive breeding the quantities increase, with a production up to 100 liters in the case of the primiparous and 170/200 liters for the multiparous. These figures are net of the feeding of the lambs. Milk is made up of 6.5% fat and 5.2% protein, with dairy yields of 20 kg of cheese per 100 liters of milk, but this obviously varies according to the type of products and cheese making techniques.
The meat yields are also important.
Lambs have a birth weight of 3-4 kg; weight at 30 days of 7-8.5 kg up to the first year of age with a weight of 36-45 kg. In males the values ​​are higher.
The comisana is also an annual polyestral breed, which according to the breeders has no difficulty in remaining pregnant throughout the year. It has a fertility rate of 95%, i.e. 95 out of 100 sheep are fertilized on average, with a prolificacy of 180% (180 lambs born out of 100 sheep) and an average age of 16 months at the first calving.
In reference to the quality of the milk, this is influenced by the type of feeding. In particular, for the heads reared in Sicily, it is evident that it is a region with a considerable production of citrus fruits, oil, fruit and vegetables in general, and that the processing waste is enhanced by adding them to the daily ration of the sheep. This translates into a high variability in the taste of dairy products, a condition that entails an added value to the goodness of the products, which are highly sought after by consumers. Sicily is in fact famous for its pecorino, for its “vastedda”, but also for the production of ricotta, the main ingredient in the noble Sicilian confectionery tradition.
Finally, as far as wool is concerned, it is rather coarse and is used for filling mattresses.

Guido Bissanti

– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– Daniele Bigi, Alessio Zanon, 2010. Atlas of native breeds. Cattle, horses, sheep and goats, pigs reared in Italy, Edagricole-New Business Media, Bologna.

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