Post date: Sep 24, 2014 6:34:5 PM

Why heritage breeds of sheep? Well, why heritage anything? The unique characteristics, the historical significance, the importance of maintaining genetic diversity. This applies to tomatoes, flowers,peaches, chickens, cattle, and yes, sheep.

Each breed of heritage sheep has unique attibutes - of meat, of wool, of behavior - and each is uniquely adapted to the region and environment (including human interactions) of where the breed developed. Each has a unique history tied into the agricultural history of its reagion.

A couple examples:

Navajo-Churro sheep have wool with no crimp, double coated with strong outer coat fibers, softer inner coat, the wool often colorful, and low in lanolin. These characteristics make this breed veryt well adapted for wool processing in an arid environment, and also make the wool ideal for weaving rugs and other utilitarian as well as stunningly beautiful works of art and craft. The history of the breed ties in with the history of the Dine' (Navajo) people in the Four Corners region.

Santa Cruz Island sheep have fine, soft, crimpy wool inherited from their Merino and Rambouillet ancestry, but also, with its high lanolin content, ideal for shedding rain and fog condensation, and insulating against heat and cold, on an island where the sheep ran wild and fended for themselves. Their small size makes them an attractive breed for grazing vineyards and orchards. Their history intimately ties in with California history, reflecting changes in land ownership and management and approaches to ranching

By preserving these breeds (and there are many other than the two I have listed) we are preserving history. In addition, though, we are preserving some very valuable genetic material. Sheep adapted to arid areas will be extremely valuable as climate change continues and xeric areas become drier and deserts continue to spread globally. Sheep adapted to warm, humid climates - such as Gulf Coast Natives - may have developed superior resistance to internal parasites and this trait will be essential in high-rainfall areas as storms become more intense. Heritage breeds often have superb mothering abilities which means greater possibilities for alternative management systems.

So, Blue Oak Canyon Ranch, along with many other producers in the U.S., have made preservation and promotion of a heritage breed of sheep one of our ranch objectives.