The Gulf Coast variety of sheep is listed as “Critical“ by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, which is the most endangered status issued by the organization.
Domesticated species like sheep are not officially listed as endangered and are not protected by law. However, there is renewed interest in preserving breeds for their historical and genetic value. Gulf Coast sheep have a somewhat murky history. They are thought to be descendants of the sheep brought to Florida by Spanish explorers in the 1500’s. Over the centuries they undoubtedly crossbred with other domestic species.
Up until the middle of the 20th century there were also large flocks of sheep living unrestrained in the states that border the Gulf of Mexico. This long period of “wild” living created a hardy breed that was well adapted to the heat and humidity of the Southeastern U.S. and an unusually high level of parasite resistance.
Gulf Coast sheep can live on a diet of grass and hay and produce lambs throughout the year if conditions are good. Unlike many modern breeds, Gulf Coast sheep usually have a single offspring rather than twins. Rams (males) can weigh up to 200 pounds while ewes (females) are usually less than 150 pounds.
Each spring the Museum’s sheep are sheared and their wool is used for animal enrichment. We make fake animals from the wool for the wolves to hunt and hide it for bears and other animals to sniff out.