Santa Cruz sheep: Critically endangered Feral breed

The Santa Cruz sheep mainly raised for wool production. The wool was native to the Santa Cruz Island of the Channel Islands of California. The breed is endangered, requires preservation and promotion.

The Santa Cruz sheep have been on the island for at least 70 years. The Santa Cruz breed over time developed to be hardy due to geographic isolation and the pressure of challenging environments.

Santa Cruz sheep breed information

The Santa Cruz sheep are small-sized sheep with fine-wool.

The adult Santa Cruz ram weighs 40 kg (88 lbs) and ewe weighs 30 kg (66 lbs).

The sheep are white, but black, brown, and spotted sheep are also found in the population. 

The breed is extremely hardy and able to thrive on poor forage.

The Santa Cruz sheep doesn’t require any lambing assistance.

The fleece of Santa Cruz is white in color which is soft.

The sheep have little or no wool on their bellies’ faces, and legs.

The Santa Cruz sheep shows high lamb survival rate, and manage to survive on very little forage.

Santa Cruz Island sheep’s long period of isolation, and adaptation to a challenging environment has given the breed extra advantage which is not found among commercial breeds.

The three main bloodlines of Santa Cruz sheep – the Stanley line, the Paroski line, and the Hopkins line.

The three main bloodlines of Santa Cruz sheep – the Stanley line, the Paroski line, and the Hopkins line.

Things to know

In the mid of 19th century, the sheep were brought to Santa Cruz Island like Rambouillet, Merino or Churro. The decline of ranching started and thousands of these sheep became feral. The feral sheep population had overgrazed the island and threatened the survival of indigenous vegetation. 

In 1978 Nature Conservancy took control of the island. The sheep had overgrazed the island and threatened the survival of indigenous vegetation. The Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service wanted to remove the sheep in order to save the island’s ecosystem. Around 20k of them were either killed or removed.

In 1988, twelve lambs were brought off the island by a team of Nature Conservancy and ALBC volunteers and were placed with five California breeders to begin a population rebuilding effort.

Today the population is around 200 Santa Cruz sheep present. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy listed the breed as “critical”.

Santa Cruz sheep Farm experiences

In 2017, there were only about 10 breeders in the United State who are working to domesticate the Santa Cruz sheep breed.

The Livestock Conservancy promotes the Santa Cruz breed to many new farmers. Most of the Millennials are preferring to own a small farm and raising the critical native breeds.

Even now the Santa Cruz sheep behave like a feral. No knowledge of bucket training, they just go away to the far end of the pasture.

Can’t image how they react for hoof trimming and deworming, farmers report they are just too afraid for these things.

Reports claim that ewes are good mothers, give birth with no help.

Natural shedding of excess wool can be seen.

The distinctive traits of the Santa Cruz sheep are stretchy wool, hardiness, alertness, and ability to thrive on poor forage.

It does take a lot of effort and careful attention for the breeder to take care of feral livestock about their mating habits.

Overall its a fun and rewarding experience to raise the critically endangered breed, and not lose them forever.

Characteristics of Santa Cruz sheep

Breed Name Santa Cruz sheep
Other Name
Country/Place of Origin the United States
Breed Purpose Wool
Breed Size Small
Weight Ram(Male) 40 kg (88 lbs)
Weight Ewe(Female) 30 kg (66 lbs)
Lambing single
Good for Stall Fed open grazing 
Climate Tolerance local conditions

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