Gulf Coast Sheep in Montana vs. Louisiana

In May of 2017 we moved the Gulf Coast Native and Icelandic flock from Louisiana to our new home in Wyoming. In December 2018 I had to rehome the remainder of my flock with a dear shepherd friend who was willing to take them, and lives in Montana. Due to advancing cancer, I became no longer able to care for them. I am still selling wool in the Etsy shop though! Here is a question from one of my customers.

Question: “How much will your Gulf Coast Native flock’s fleeces change in their character now that they are living in Montana? Would taking them away from the Gulf Coast area change what make them Gulf coast Native sheep?”

My answer to this customer:

“The best qualities of Gulf Coast sheep are they are great survivors. However, “surviving” is not the same as “thriving”. Yes, they can survive and propagate in the harsh climate of the south. Not only is the climate of the Gulf Coast states harsh because of heat, –which GCN handle by having an “open”, less dense and shorter fleece, with little/no wool on legs, bellies, and faces, –it is also harsh because the constantly wet environment is a utopia for barber pole worm (haemonchus contortus).

As long as the grass is wet, which is often, the worms are active, and ingested when the sheep graze. They make the sheep anemic and cause death especially in lambs under a year and in nursing ewes. They can be rescued from it, but it is always a battle and there are no guarantees even with the best of care. Even in the best of health, in my experience, GCN are always rather skinny and boney in the south especially when compared with true meat sheep.

During the 2 years I had the same sheep in Wyoming that I had in Louisiana, I noticed an increase in body weight and overall health. They handled the cold just fine! To my pleasant surprise, their bodies knew just what to do. They put on heavier, thicker, and much longer wool. Gorgeous!

There was not a single instance of worms, even in the new lambs. The nursing mothers did not seem to lose so much weight. Their hooves got harder, and I did not have to treat for hoof rot even once. I had to trim and maintain the hooves far less often. There was no instance of hoof wall separation!

So to answer your question, the fleeces change a lot in character from the south to the northwest. I even ordered a fleece from a good Texas flock to compare. Compared to how my sheep grew out up here, that fleece was short and very sparse. I got a good 4-6 inch staple when I was shearing Gulf Coasts (mine and others’) in Louisiana, but up here, it is quite a bit longer. The thickness of it though is what impresses me the most!

The Gulf Coast Natives here (now) in the northwest are still parasite and hoof rot resistant. But where in Louisiana “resistant” means “you can fight the battle and you have a chance at winning/maintaining them”, up here it means “you don’t have any battles to fight”! At least not in my limited, personal experience. So no, I do not believe taking them away from the Gulf Coast area changed at all what makes them Gulf Coast Natives. The Gulf Coast is just where they have been adapting for the past 500 years, to the characteristics and challenges of the hot, wet climate.”

I should add, however, that I met another Montana shepherd at a convention last year, who described having the same struggles with his flock (I do not recall what breed) and barber pole worm as what I dealt with in Louisiana, maybe even a little worse. I was surprised. I thought maybe barber pole was a southern thing and didn’t exist up here. When I questioned him further, I learned his particular property has similar “nearly constantly wet” conditions as Louisiana. That taught me that yes, barber pole does exist in this part of the world and it is possible for them to be a problem when the wet conditions the worms thrive on are present. My Wyoming farm was very dry.

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