Heritage Sheep Breeds

Heritage Sheep Breeds

Sheep have played an important role in civilization for thousands of years.  Their thick, versatile wool has been keeping man warm and dry, while their meat and milk has been keeping us well fed.  Mutton is a luxury in the United States, but in many areas of the world, meat from sheep is a staple.  Recently, a resurgence in self-sufficiency has created a renewed interest in knitting, spinning and other fiber arts, so some heritage sheep breeds have seen remarkable recovery.  There are still many breeds that are critically endangered, and deserve a second look if you are considering adding sheep to your farm.

There are five breeds listed as critically endangered, according to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.  The first four, Gulf Coast or Gulf Coast Native, Hog Island, Romeldale/CVM and Santa Cruz are American breeds.  The fifth, Leicester Longwool, is an English breed.  Like most heritage breeds, these are ideal dual-purpose breeds that provide food and wool while thriving on conditions most modern breeds would not be able to survive in.

In addition to the breeds listed as critically endangered, there are six breeds that are on the threatened list, three on the watch list, and eight on the recovering list.  The popular Barbados Blackbelly is recovering, thanks to the efforts of conservationists and the increasing popularity of fiber arts.

If you are considering getting sheep, look at these endangered heritage breeds first.  Not only will you help preserve a breed, but also get hearty animals who will be more adaptable to a wider variety of living conditions.