Gulf Coast Native Sheep
We have previously hinted that Holiday Ranch might get some sheep to help with weed control. The first load of sheep arrived July 4th weekend; ten Gulf Coast Native ewes from the University of Florida’s closed herd. What REALLY makes these sheep from the University special are they are parasite resistant and have not been wormed since 1962, going on 50 years!
We were so lucky to get these special sheep. Our friend and fellow cattleman, Hollis Savell, has a son named Jesse who is with the University of Florida Animal Sciences department. We told Hollis to let Jesse know that if the University ever disposed of some of their sheep to keep us in mind because we were very interested. In just a matter of days Jesse contacted us to say they had some sheep available.
The sheep are listed as critically endangered by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.
Here is what the Gulf Coast Native Sheep website has to say:
The American Sheep Industry Association considers the Gulf Coast Sheep one of the oldest breeds of sheep in North America. Little is known about the breed before the nineteenth century though they are known to have existed for centuries. It is believed that these sheep developed from sheep that the Spanish first brought to the southeastern United States in the 1500’s. As late as 1717, 2500 Spanish sheep were brought from Mexico City to Los Adaes near Natchitoches. Louisiana. Importations of French sheep and possibly other breeds may have mixed with the Spanish sheep. Descendants of these sheep developed largely through natural selection under humid semitropical range conditions in the Gulf Coast areas of East Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida. Prior to World War II hundreds of thousands were allowed to free range in unimproved pastures, pineywoods and sugar cane fields. Twice a year they were rounded up for shearing and to mark lambs. After World War II the emphasis on high input agriculture caused the sheep industry to turn to breeds of sheep which were larger in size and produced more wool and meat. This caused the numbers of Gulf Coast sheep to decline dramatically endangering its very existence. Now, with renewed interest in low-input sustainable agriculture interest in Gulf Coast sheep is reviving. These sheep have been known by various names such as Florida Native, Louisiana Native, Common Sheep, Woods Sheep, Native Sheep or Pineywoods Sheep. Remnants of these sheep survive today and are known as Gulf Coast Sheep.
The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy says:
Gulf Coast sheep, also known as Gulf Coast Native sheep, Woods sheep, and Native sheep, descend from the Spanish flocks brought to the New World by explorers and settlers beginning in the 1500s. The genetic origins of the Gulf Coast breed are not known, since a wide variety of types and breeds of sheep existed in Spain at that time. Churro sheep, multi-purpose animals used for meat, milk, and coarse wool, were commonly brought to the Americas by the Spaniards, however, and may well have contributed to the breed’s foundation. At the same time, the Gulf Coast’s fine wool suggests a contribution from pre-Merino types as well.
Gulf Coast sheep were used across the Southeast by Spanish missionaries, Native Americans, and European settlers as far north as the Carolinas. Spanish sheep in the Southeast were shaped primarily by natural selection, becoming well adapted to the heat and humidity of the environment. These sheep fit their challenging environment so well that for centuries they were the only sheep to be found in the deep South, providing wool and meat for home production. The development of anti-parasite medications in the 1900s allowed the introduction of other, larger, more productive sheep breeds to the Southeast. Gulf Coast sheep were slowly discarded by most farmers; the breed was saved only through the action of a few Southern families.
Gulf Coast sheep lack wool on their faces, legs, and bellies, an adaptation to the heat and humidity of the South. Otherwise they tend to vary somewhat in aspects of physical appearance. Variability has also resulted from the isolation of different strains of the breed. While most sheep are white, blacks and browns also occur, and some individuals may have spotted faces and legs. Most rams and some ewes are horned, although both sexes may also be polled. Gulf Coast sheep vary in size, with rams weighing 125–200 pounds and ewes 90–160 pounds.
What is consistent among Gulf Coast sheep is their exquisite adaptation to an environment that is generally difficult for sheep. Gulf Coast breed and lamb year-round. The ewes make excellent mothers, pasture lambing without assistance. Ewes usually produce 70 percent single births, 30 percent twins, and rarely triplets. With good forage, incidence of multiple births increases. The lambs are vigorous and grow rapidly. Gulf Coast sheep have well-documented resistance to gut parasites, foot rot, and other diseases that commonly affect sheep. These valuable performance characteristics recommend the breed for low-input sheep production.
Like other landrace breeds, the Gulf Coast has suffered from a lack of documentation and description. Researchers at the University of Florida and at Louisiana State University have addressed this problem by working to locate breed populations and describe the breed’s characteristics. Additionally, since 1995 private efforts have been underway to inventory and register Gulf Coast sheep across the Southeast.