Gulf Coast Sheep

 

A Bit of History

Gulf Coast Sheep are 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 they descended 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 of these sheep 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.

Unique Traits

  • Gulf Coast sheep are known for their high level of parasite resistance. Studies from several universities have found the presence of factors in Gulf Coast sheep that prevent infestation of some gut parasites. In one study, Gulf Coast Sheep had one eighth of the fecal parasite egg count than Suffolk sheep under similar conditions. Due to this remarkable trait, some flocks have been maintained for many years without the use of dewormers. The University of Florida flock was maintained this way for more than thirty years.

  • Gulf Coast Sheep have a well-documented resistance to footrot, based on the experiences of many breeders including those at research universities.

  • Gulf Coast Sheep have become so adapted to the high heat and humidity that temperatures of more than 100 degrees will not interfere with breeding.

  • Gulf Coast ewes are excellent mothers and will lamb on pasture with little to no intervention. Lambing rates are similar to that of other breeds (70% single, 30% twins and occasionally triplets). They produce a high percentage of live lambs and a high ratio of finished lambs per ewe

  • Grassfed Gulf Coast lamb is lean, mild and fine textured. Even mutton from mature ewes and rams is notably delicious. Gulf Coast Sheep are listed on the Slow Food USA – Ark of Taste as a breed whose culinary heritage should be preserved for future generations.

Conservation Status: Critical – Fewer than 200 annual registrations in the United States and estimated global population less than 2,000.

To learn more about this remarkable breed please visit Gulf Coast Sheep Breeders Association and The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.