Santa Cruz Island Sheep

Santa Cruz Island Sheep

Santa Cruz Island sheep are named for Santa Cruz Island off the California coast. Their ancestors were brought to the island beginning in 1850. In the 1970’s through 2001, sheep were either slaughtered or captured and moved off the island by The Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service, respectively. We acquired our starter flock of Santa Cruz Island sheep in July 2010. As an avid (though not particularly skilled) handspinner and knitter and beginning weaver, I was looking for a hardy, self-sufficient and fuss-free breed with nice wool, marketable to crafters and artists, and that were “endangered” and needed preservation and promotion (the sheep, not the crafters and artists - well, maybe they need promotion too!). That these sheep were nearly indigenous to California, had an interesting history, and came from an environment similar to that of our ranch, were added attractions. 

Research has shown the breeds that contributed to the present-day Santa Cruz Island sheep certainly include Merino and
Rambouillet, and possibly include Churra and Leicester. The small size, hardiness, tendency toward single births, and strong mothering instincts are logical adaptations to an island habitat with limited food supply. Their wool is soft, fine textured, short staple wool with high lanolin content and fine crimp.  It spins into soft, springy, elastic garment-quality yarn fantastic for knitting, crocheting, and weaving.  Most sheep are white, but some are brown and some spotted. We hope to offer breeding stock soon, as well as fleeces and processed wool which we have seasonally available. The Livestock Conservancy lists Santa Cruz Island sheep as “Critical.”

One of my favorite fiction books is Always Coming Home by Ursula K. Le Guin.  This book is a fictional anthropological study of a people called the Kesh, who live in post-holocaust northern California.  Among other activities, the Kesh raise sheep and spin and weave.  Le Guin describes the sheep, which in many ways sounds like Santa Cruz Island sheep:  "The several strains of Valley sheep were all derived from crossing "foreign" breeds...a small compact animal with loose, fine wool,..."  and "The sheep was not a symbol of passive stupidity and blind obedience as it is to us (and indeed the Valley sheep were both athletic and wily), but rather was regarded with a kind of affectionate awe, as an intrinsically mysterious being."  Both of these partial quotes are from the "appendices" near the end of the book, pages 439 and 440 in my paperback copy.

I certainly find our sheep to be athletic and wily, and I do indeed regard them with affectionate awe!

Here is a link to the history of sheep ranching on Santa Cruz Island, on the Livestock Conservancy website.  History SCI Sheep Ranching

Recently, I gave a talk about Santa Cruz Island Sheep which was in turn part of a presentation on "Drought Tolerant Sheep" at the Wool Symposium, northern California Fibershed, November 2015.  You can see this talk following Debby Bradford's talk on Navajo-Churro sheep, here: http://www.fibershed.com/wool-symposium-2015/

Whether you purchase your fleeces from us or from another producer or from a retailer, we have some tips for processing Santa Cruz Island wool on the "Processing our Fiber" page on this website.

If you have any questions about these sheep or their wool, feel free to contact us at lynn@blueoakcanyonranch.com

Check out our blog, also - we have posted some videos of our sheep, including videos of the Santa Cruz Island ram lambs from spring 2015.
Here is a photo of Flash with her mother in the background; Flash is a 2015 ewe lamb and will be a replacement ewe in our flock.  She will be ready to breed in, perhaps, another year.  She is showing you how alert and wary she is, also how pretty.
Please continue following our blog.  We have posted photos and videos of our 2016 lambs (some lambs and ewes pictured in the photos below) and will continue to "follow the flock," as well as our other ranch activities, as we go along.
Jeanine and a ram lamb, can't read his eartag from here!
Margarita and baby Junie.
7 of 9 and her ram lamb, one of twins, Independence.
7 of 9
Nina