Santa Cruz Island Sheep
Santa Cruz Island Sheep
Santa Cruz Island sheep (aka Santa Cruz 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, the sheep were either slaughtered or captured and moved off the island by The Livestock Conservancy working with The Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service. The sheep were placed with various breeders in California and have spread out from there.
There are, with our present knowledge, three main bloodlines or "lines" - the Stanley line, the Paroski line, and the Hopkins line. We acquired our starter flock of Stanley line Santa Cruz Island sheep in July 2010, from Marion Stanley himself. 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 the crafters and artists need preservation and 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. A few years later, we acquired two Hopkins line rams, and a few years after that acquired three Paroski line ewes. Then four more Paroski line ewes and two rams, then...in March 2019, we learned the remaining flock of Paroski line sheep in Windsor, California, needed a new home, so we adopted these 40-odd rams, ewes, and lambs. This brings our entire flock of Santa Cruz Island sheep up to around 100. The "new" sheep have integrated quite well with the "old" sheep, after some challenges.
Research reveals 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, and beautifully rustic garment-quality yarn for knitting, crocheting, and weaving. Most sheep are white, but many are brown and some are spotted. We hope to offer breeding stock soon, as well as fleeces and processed wool which we have seasonally available. Rams usually have two spiral horns but occasionally are polled or with short horns. The Livestock Conservancy lists Santa Cruz Island sheep as “Critical.”
A personal aside: 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 - things that have worked for us - 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Check out our blog, also, and our Instagram account, @blueoakcanyonranch. We regularly post photos and videos of our sheep.
Here is a photo of Flash with her mother in the background; Flash is a 2015 ewe lamb and a replacement ewe in our flock. Just this spring (2019) She had her first lamb. In the photo below lamb Flash is showing you how alert and wary she is, also how pretty.
We use Instagram and the blog on this website to continue to "follow the flock" (some older lambs and ewes pictured in the photos below), as well as our other ranch activities, as we go along our exciting journey.
Jeanine and a ram lamb, can't read his eartag from here!
Margarita and baby Junie.
The late 7 of 9 and her ram lamb, one of twins.
The late, great 7 of 9