Sheep have been around forever ever since ancient civilization. Sheep have served for centuries, being used by humans for their wool and meat throughout history. Many sheep breeds have joined the long list of animal breeds that are now rare, endangered, or at risk. Despite the efforts, many breeds still struggle to find a footing in the 21st century.
Few of the rare sheep breeds are.
Rare Sheep Breeds
1. Leicester Longwool
One of the ‘luster longwool’ breeds, this sheep variety was developed by the innovative breeder Robert Bakewell using modern breeding techniques back in the 1700s. Leicester is known for the sheen and brilliance of their wool and very popular with hand spinners.
Soon after the breed development, Leicester Longwool quickly grabbed attention in England, across Europe, Colonial America, and Australia. This sheep breed was imported to different countries where it was cross-bred with native stock. Leicester Longwool is credited for the improvement of multiple breeds.
After the 1900s, the population of this breed witnessed a decline in the US and many other countries. It was likely extinct by the 1940s in the United States. In 1980, Colonial Williamsburg took a step forward to preserve the breed as this beautiful sheep attracted his interest.
He imported the stock from America and reestablished the breed with a flock at Williamsburg and several satellite flocks.
It is prized for its soft and lustrous fleece as well as good meat.
2. Hog Island Sheep
About 200 years ago, a flock of sheep was deposited on one of Virginia’s barrier islands, Hog Island. Unlike Leicester Longwool, it is a rugged, low-maintenance sheep descended from a small group of British Sheep.
The ancestors of modern-day Hog Island sheep were hardy souls who survived on remote Virginia’s Island. Established in the 1700s, it evolved into a rugged, compact breed that fended for itself.
After an epidemic of hurricanes, human inhabitants were forced to leave the island but the sheep remained there. In 1974, Nature Conservancy purchases the Island and took measures to save this endangered heritage breed, the breed was removed from its native place and sent to live in civilized surroundings.
They call George Washington’s Birthplace National Monument and other living history museums their home now. This is a black faced sheep breed with a beautiful appearance.
This sheep breed is raised for good wool production.
3. Santa Cruz
Hailing from Santa Cruz, an island off the California coast, locals state that the sheep have been on the island for around 200 years and first moved here in the early 1800s. This feral sheep breed is believed to be the descendants of Merino and Rambouillet.
This breed has been feral for the last 70 years. In the 1970s through 2001, the population saw a decline when the sheep were being slaughtered, captured, or moved off the Island.
Just like Hog Island, Nature Conservancy bought nearly all the Santa Cruz and moved all the sheep to some other places in 1980. This initiative was taken to protect Island from further environmental degradation and prevent the loss of indigenous vegetation.
Santa Cruz sheep were given to five California breeders to save the breed from going extinct. The domestic population has seen an increase ever since.
Santa Cruz is bred, raised, and kept mainly for wool.
4. Gulf Coast Sheep
Image Source https://www.flickr.com/photos/rdsfarm/4291502993/
This sheep breed goes by many names like Gulf Coast Native sheep, Woods sheep, and Native sheep. Descended from Spanish flock brought to the American Southeast first by Spanish explorers and settlers in the 1500s.
Over the centuries, Gulf Coast sheep became well adapted to the heat and humidity of the environment. For decades, they were the only sheep breeds found in the deep South.
When other more productive sheep breeds came to the horizon, Golf Coast Sheep were gradually discarded by the livestock farmers.
Some Southern families did not give up on the breed and took initiative to revive the breed.
It was raised by the Southern families for meat and wool.
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Developed by California breeder, A.T. Spencer, Romeldale is an American fine wool breed. This breed is marked ‘rare’ owing to the fewer number. Well adapted to their native climates, Romeldale sheep are strong, sturdy, highly prolific, and excellent mothers.
Developed in the early 1900s by the crossing of Romney-Rambouillet for many years, together called Romeldale. J. K. Sexton’s family vow to develop and evolve the breed further during the 1940s and 1950s. Colored ram made an entry in the Romedale breed during the 1960s.
Romeldale CVM flock no longer has a flattering number, in fact, the said flock is averaged less than 30. It is concerning as only less than 500 sheep are getting registered every year.
Romeldale is a dual-purpose breed kept for both meat and wool production.
6. North Ronaldsay
Have you heard of the Seaweed-eating sheep? It’s North Ronaldsay. The rarest and most unusual sheep breed in the United Kingdom lives up on a remote Scottish island off the Northern coast of Orkney.
A drystone dyke was built encircling the island which confined the breed to the seashore. That’s the reason, they eat and survive on seaweed. Member of the short-tailed sheep family, this is a small, hardy, ancient breed found in Northern Europe and on some parts of the Atlantic Islands.
During the 1830s, many life-changing events took place in the breed’s life owing to cultural development and major social change. When modern field systems and methods of Island costs management begin to replace the traditional pattern of land management.
Due to modernization, North Ronaldsay was discarded and removed from many islands. To save the breed, a drystone wall was built on a high water line around the complete circumference of the island.
All the changes did not serve the breed well, causing their population to decline. Records show that only 500 female breeding sheep are registered in the UK.
Famed for both wool and meat.
7. Castlemilk Moorit
Goes by different sheep names like Castlemilk Shetland, Milledge Sheep, and Moorit Shetland, this sheep breed hails from Dumfriesshire, Scotland. Owing to the good looks, it was developed to be a decorative or show breed back in the 1900s.
They got the first half of the name from the estate where they were bred, Castlemilk Estate, whereas Lowland Scots refer word Moorit to light tan or
or reddish-brown color.
It is hard to summarize a century-old history into few words but here is an account of this breed’s life. In early 1900, the late Sir Jock Buchanan-Jardine began developing this breed on his Castlemilk Estate.
This breed was developed to be a decorative sheep breed, intended to beautify his parkland and provide moorit colored wool. He crossed Manx Loaghtan, moorit Shetland, and the wild Mouflon to develop Castlemilk Moorit.
Sir Jock Buchanan-Jardine died in 1970, the population of this breed declined following his death. Only a few ewes and two rams were saved which later became the ancestor of the modern Castlemilk Moorit. It is a rare British breed with a maximum of 900 animals.
Mainly raised for hobby farming.
This small, primitive sheep breed does not just ace in beauty but strength as well. Known for surviving the most adverse conditions, Soay, unlike other developed breeds has high resistance to many health problems. In Norse, Soay means ‘sheep island’ experts say the breed might have developed at the time of Vikings.
Named after the island they call home, the island of Soay off the coast of Scotland and now mainly found on Hirta, the island of the St. Kilda group. This breed was large in number before the Roman Occupation.
In 1932, when the evacuation began, 107 Soay were sent to Hirta. The population has seen quite a fall after the evacuation, now the total number of Soay breeds equals more or less 1500 sheep. Even though efforts have been made to preserve the breed, many Soay sheep are imported to other countries as well for breeding purposes but the breed remains rare.
Even though they have excellent fine fleece, they are raised mainly for meat.
Teeswater is a longwool breed carrying a fine, lustrous, long stapled fleece. Longwool sheep breed was brought to England by Roman when they invaded Britain. The sheep breed has seen its highs and lows ever since it was developed in Northern England about 200 years ago.
Native to Teesdale, England, Teeswater’s claim to fame was being the sire of the Masham crossbred and enjoyed a period of great popularity.
Teeswater breed nearly dodged extinction in the early 1900s. One of the reasons might be the increasing popularity of Wensleydale and the people preferring the latter over the former.
The breed became rare in the early 1900s but it has seen a renaissance since Second World War.
Several farmers took initiative to preserve the breed.
Teeswater Sheep Breeder’s Association was established in 1949 for breed improvement as well as maintaining purity.
Seeing the long locks, one may think it is raised for wool but to your surprise, it is bred and kept mainly for meat.
10. Dorset Down
Dorset Down is often titled the ‘king of the prime lamb breed’. Being one of the oldest native breeds, they have a prestigious past and a promising future ahead.
Hailing from the Dorset Downs region of England, the breed was first originated in the early 19th century. The breed was developed by crossing local, Wiltshire, Berkshire, and Hampshire ewes with Southdown rams.
Well-adapted to the native area, Dorset Down soon became popular as a terminal sire. With the introduction of other foreign breeds like Texel and
Suffolk, the number of Dorset Down along with other Down breeds dwindled.
Dorset Down is marked as a minority breed by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. Even though other Down breeds are multiplying in number, Dorset Down remains rare.
It is a meat sheep breed so it’s a no-brainer why it is raised for.
Everything about Wensleydale is distinct, be it fleece, deep blue head, ears, or legs. This domestic sheep breed from the United Kingdom was originated in North Yorkshire, England during the 19th century.
Wensleydale was a prized sheep breed till Teeswater arrived. After that, the population of Wensleydale saw a decline so did its role as a crossing sire. In the UK, there are less than 1500 registered ewes.
Bred for meat and wool production.
Lastly, these were just a few breeds that are either rare or at risk. There are many other sheep breeds that will be wiped out if initiatives are not taken timely.