The Santa Cruz sheep come from a very diverse background. It is believed they are descended from several breeds, including Merino, Rambouillet and Churro. They evolved on Santa Cruz Island off the coast of California in a feral state since the mid 1800s. When they first arrived on the island is still unclear. It is believed that a flock was left to run feral on the island once sheep operations on the island closed.
In 1980, the Nature Conservancy and The Livestock Conservancy cooperated to remove the sheep from the island due to their damaging effect on the local ecosystem.
At this point, it is estimated that there are less than 100 sheep remaining on the island and several small flocks throughout the United States, primarily in California. They are light-weight, black or white, horned or polled and known to shed their wool if not shorn. Like many feral breeds, they have less wool on their face, legs and underbellies, are very hardy and thrive on forage. The Santa Cruz have also developed select traits such as the wool-less “rat tail” to help them survive without human contact on the island.
The Livestock Conservancy has determined their status to be critical and they are in need of more involved breeders to prevent imminent extinction.
Santa Cruz Island Sheep Registry, c/o The Livestock Conservancy
SVF worked extensively with the Santa Cruz sheep from 2006 to 2010. All of our sheep were donated to SVF by dedicated conservationists in California, who had maintained purebred flocks for preservation purposes. After two cross-country trips to obtain the sheep and germplasm collection, SVF sought new breed stewards who would take on the flock and continue breeding and registering their offspring.
One particular breeder has been a standout in not only maintaining the Santa Cruz sheep as a purebred flock but also for educating consumers about rare and heritage breeds of livestock. The Inn at East Hill Farm is a family-oriented working farm and inn located in Troy, N.H. Please read more about their program here.
East Hill Farm Educational Mission: To provide a hands-on educational experience that incorporates the theoretical and practical applications of farm-related tasks. To provide an awareness and appreciation of the importance of agriculture to our individual existence and global sustainability.
East Hill Farm offers many educational opportunities, including: half-day field trips for preschool and kindergarten students; overnight stays for home-schooled families; and our newest venture, East Hill Farm School. This program is designed to provide middle-school students, grades 5-8, with a meaningful, hands-on farm experience. Students will join the East Hill Farm staff and naturalists for a three-day program, during which they will play an integral role in running the farm. On our 150 acres, we raise heritage-breed cows, goats, sheep and pigs, along with horses, chickens and other farm animals. Through our school program, students will participate in a wide range of farm activities, from milking the cows to fixing fences to helping manage the fields and surrounding woodlands. By caring for the animals and gaining a stronger appreciation for environmental stewardship, the students will begin to regard the farm as a home away from home.
At East Hill Farm, we have several animals that are listed as priority breeds in North America by The Livestock Conservancy. These breeds include Santa Cruz Island Sheep, Kerry Cows, Milking Devon Cows, Tamworth Pigs and San Clemente Island Goats. Our focus is to conserve livestock genetic resources. We are working to preserve breeds not just as relics to be viewed in a zoo-like format, but rather as viable farm animals whose genetic traits will allow the changes needed to support our agricultural systems for generations to come in our ever-changing world.