SocialGulf Coast Native sheep are descended from sheep brought to the New World by Christopher Columbus. Over centuries, they adapted to the harsh climate of the Gulf Coast states. Growing no wool on their faces and legs, and having an “open fleece” with no undercoat, they are wool sheep who can handle the heat. They are resistant to (but not impervious) the haemonchus contortus (“barber pole” worm) parasite that decimates many small livestock in our region.
Despite their hardiness and ability to survive by foraging on their own, Gulf Coast Native sheep remain on the critically endangered list of The Livestock Conservancy because:
1) the wool subsidies were revoked in the late 1980’s, making it cost more to shear & maintain sheep than their meat and wool products (in competition with cheaper synthetic fibers) were worth;
2) open range grazing rights that allowed Louisiana shepherds to let their flocks graze together on government land was revoked, and
3) after eating so much low quality mutton during WWII, U.S. demand for any mutton fell drastically.
The RESULT of these things has been that within less than 60 years, LOUISIANA HAS FORGOTTEN we ever enjoyed the asset of these sheep, and this beautiful part of our Louisiana heritage! Three elderly shepherds today with whom I have personally spoken, still share early-mid 20th century memories of box cars loaded with Gulf Coast Native sheep wool by the ton at Louisiana train depots, headed for northern factories; of US Army blankets made of Gulf Coast Native wool from Louisiana; of rounding up sheep from free grazing the open land and woods for shearing; of shearing and returning the wool to the neighbor a sheep belongs to, when finding a sheep in the round up with a neighbor’s tag or brand.
Louisiana State University, having maintained a Gulf Coast Native flock since 1958, did research on breeding the parasite resistance of these sheep into other breeds until around 2011. (Every 1st generation -F1- was hardy, but the parasite resistance trait lost dominance in the subsequent generations). They dispersed the LSU flock. The Louisiana history textbooks have forgotten about the sheep that once grazed Louisiana interior by the tens of thousands (or more). The sheep are unknown to Louisiana museum curators.
What You Can Do
- Socialize! Spread the word through your own social media!
- Learn! what The Livestock Conservancy is doing! Consider supporting them.
- Play! If you like to knit, crochet, weave or spin, or Always Wanted to Learn, check out Shave ’em to Save ’em This is a fun event and will go a long way to raising awareness of endangered breeds, and creating a demand for their wool products. (Wool is harvested yearly to make the sheep more comfortable, less stressed and able to handle the heat. Sheep are not killed for wool, despite what anti-wool propaganda says).
- Shop! A few Louisiana hobby farms still raise Gulf Coast Native sheep. Buying products made from Louisiana wool, including yarn for knitting or crochet and roving for spinning into yarn, is the best way to save the sheep by creating demand for their products, inspiring more shepherds to revive the breed!
“[Gulf Coast Native] wool makes a sturdy fabric that is durable and long wearing. It is great for outerwear!” –Julie, Montana Fiber Artist
For more information:
Dempsey Perkins is the 4th generation Louisiana shepherd who bred my foundation Gulf Coast Native stock.
Twin Oaks Farm is a great example of what shepherds of small flocks of Gulf Coast Natives are doing today in the Gulf Coast states to preserve this heritage breed.
The Spinning Loft is an example of contributing to reviving this breed through promotion of Gulf Coast Native fiber (wool) product! And, of coarse, A Sheep Like Faith on Etsy! (formerly “Wool of Louisiana”).
Kelli Carruth Miller, 2018