GULF COAST SHEEP
by Dempsey Perkins
The history of Gulf Coast Sheep is somewhat sketchy, but we know that early Spanish explorers left some sheep behind, and these were the foundation stock of our breed. Down through the years gradual blending in of mostly English white-faced breeds occurred as settlers tried crossbreeding on a very limited scale. There is however, some definite Tunis influence in some lines of Gulf Coast Native.
Gulf Coast rams were never seriously challenged by any other breed under open range conditions. The largest numbers of sheep ranged across the deep south within 100 miles of the Gulf Coast. The largest concentration was in Southwest Louisiana where the numbers were in the hundreds of thousands during the 30's and 40's.
Since these sheep ran the year round on open range, without a herder, they became very self-sufficient. There was no supplemental feeding at all at any time of the year. Not only did they survive, they really thrived. Winter temperatures here can reach the single digits and the teens are not uncommon. There is hardly any native forage available from November to March. The sheep were rounded up two times each year, once in the spring for docking and marking lambs, and once in the summer for shearing and dipping for ticks. Sheep were never wormed, and they lambed on their own without assistance. You could have called this the survival of the fittest, even though there was an amazingly low mortality rate.
It's easy to figure that what developed from this era was an extremely hardy sheep. Studies at the University of Florida and Louisiana State University found that Gulf Coast Sheep have some natural resistance to internal parasites. Some flocks have been maintained for years without de-wormers. Foot rot is less likely to occur in these sheep. Gulf Coast Sheep have become adapted to high heat and humidity in summer months and are active breeders during this stressful time.
Gulf Coast Sheep are small to medium sized with adult rams typically weighing 125 -200 pounds and ewes weighing 80-160 pounds. Most sheep are white to tan with a nice medium grade fleece. They have open faces, legs and the bellies are mostly clean. A small tuft of wool on the poll is sometimes present. Both sexes may be polled or horned. Rams and ewes are active breeders all year, and begin at a very young age. Ewes are excellent mothers, lambing without assistance and giving ample milk for two lambs.
The last ten years have witnessed a renewed interest in these hardy sheep. In 1994, the Gulf Coast Sheep Breeders Association was established to register animals and disseminate information about the breed.
The Bennett Farm is located in north central Missouri. Our weather ranges from -20 degrees F to 110 degrees F. We have raised Gulf Coast sheep for four years. At present we have 56 adult ewes, mostly registered. This is our third year for our milk sheep production. We typically milk sheep from January to Labor Day. We may milk as many as 16 sheep at a time, but more likely 10-12. We essentially maintain two separate flocks during the milking season. The flocks have access to high quality alfalfa or clover hay. We feed no grain, except to the milking sheep. The lambs and ewes here can grow very large. Our newborn lambs average 8-10 lbs., with others at 10-16 pounds.
The ewes start lambing in December. The sheep can lamb in the snow or a barn if they choose. last year we had 65 lambs, with five losses. Davies County, MO has many sheep and we have a good market.
Internal parasites are a major problem in this area. However, at this time we have never had to use any chemical or natural wormers.
The milk flock is milked twice daily, with weekly records of milk weights. We have four stands that resemble goat stands, except that sheep are typically milked from the rear. The milk of ewes is very rich, creamy and sweet. this is used as table milk, butter, yogurt, soft and hard cheeses, and ice cream. The milk is not pasteurized but filtered through a dairy filter. Sheep milk is around 8% fat, but is different from cows milk in that it is a medium length fatty acid that provides energy rather than being stored as fat somewhere on your person. Sheep milk products are very common in Europe, but in america the whole idea is very foreign.
A typical Gulf Coast Ewe has a lactation period of 8 weeks, and will give 100 lbs of milk during that lactation period. The typical Gulf Coast ewe weighs approximately 100 lbs, has a low lamb mortality, is hardy and resistant to parasites. Single lambs are common.
The typical non-Gulf Coast dairy ewe has a 4 to 6 month lactation period, producing 600-1200 lbs of milk. she weighs 140-180 lbs., is not hardy, is parasite/disease prone, and has a high lamb mortality. Twins and triplets are common.
Gulf Coast Dairy sheep #2 (GCA0404) produced 600 lbs. in her first lactation period of 6 months. In the second year, which was a drought year, she produced 460 lbs. over 6 months. She weighs approximately 125 lbs., and her last lamb weighed 16 lbs at birth. Lambs are weaned at 5 weeks.
#73 crossbred GC/Dorset had a first year lactation of 600 lbs. The second year, a dought year she produced 564 lbs. over a 7 month period. She weighs approx. 110 lbs., and her last lamb weighed 9 lbs at birth.
Other exalmples of GC dairy ewes: #70- 5 month lactation; her daughter #16, 5 month lactation; Third generation daughter #11, 4 month lactation.
#18- lactation 8 weeks- 121 lbs. milk
#64- lactation 8 weeks- 64 lbs milk
#7- lactation 8 weeks- 103 lbs.
Summery: A good Gulf Coast dairy ewe will give one quart + of milk per milking. The heritability of dairy production is high. It appears the ewes will not come in heat when milk production is more than one cup per milking. they are easily trained to jump on a milking stand and don't mind the milking procedure. Bennett Farm has a work crew of 10 children to help with chores.
DAVID BENNETT -------------photos by Tammy James
I thought you would enjoy other pictures that Tammy James has provided me with of Gulf Coast sheep other than our own.
These are David and Tammy's Gulf Coast sheep, and their little daughter Hannah
And just so you know that the black Gulf Coast are very beautiful, lots of fun and gentle, this is a Billy Frank Brown ram that Tammy caught in real play time!
The Flock at Running Moon Farm started in 1969 with a Gulf Coast Ram and two Ewes, all lambs. They were purchased from the Perkins Farm. At this time the Gulf Coast was a dwindling breed, after having been so plentiful in the area. Lloyd was raised with the Gulf Coast, so naturally it was these sheep he wanted. Over the years we have come to realize the value of these beautiful animals.
We have found the resistance to Parasite and disease in the Gulf Coast is very predominate. It seems to weaken as the blood lines are diffused
The full Gulf Coast Sheep are a beautiful sheep, clean bellied, clean legged and with clean faces. They are quick, active and deer like, a landrace breed they are some diversified in that some will be polled, horned or skurred, some have small puffs of fiber on the poll and others do not. At times there will be a little wool on the back leggs, but very little and size can differ in individuals. All will have the same genetic structure as they are a genetic landrace breed. You will find family strains in the breed that sport reddish coloration, some with small spots of black and red on the faces and legs. The blue will have a fleece that is reddish fading to coffee and mostly the face will sport white and brown on the black as well as the leggs.
They are active sheep, grazing well on improved pasture or piney woods alike. Lambs are born small, grow fast, quickly aquiring size and are very active.
Our Registered Flock is now with Brien and Terri Nicolau, and with Lloyd's death I have kept 5 ewes, but no longer have breeding stock to sell. Please contact Terri for Gulf Coast Sheep and you are welcome to contact us. The foundation flock at Perkins Farm has been dispersed with Dempsey Perkins Death (8/27/1941-12/25/2005) You can check with the Gulf Coast Sheep Breeders Association 947 County Road 302, Sandia, TX 78383 , or go to the contact page atGCSBA
I can not possibly express how I miss my Shepherd. A good husband, full of the knowledge of so many things, and love for his family. He loved the Lord, and he loved his sheep too, and the only way I can express it is in pictures:
We have lived on this farm since 1967, but did not get into the fiber arts until 1969. My husband was raised here, not 2 miles from where this farm is located. I was raised in New Mexico, where we met on my Grandparents ranch in Luna County in 1962, and married in August of that year. When my husband Lloyd decided he had enough of New Mexico and moved us to Louisiana in 1967 we knew we wanted a small place to build a home and hoping to have enough land for our horses (I raised Arabian horses) and our own food.
We bought this farm in 1967, and in 1969, both of us secure in good jobs and beginning to settle in and work on our dreams of a small farm started out on the enterprise that was to occupy our lives. My husband had been raised with the Gulf Coast Sheep, shearing all through the southern parts of Louisiana and into eastern Texas to a small degree with his brother. One of the first things he said when we were able to consider livestock was that he wanted some sheep. My grandfather had run sheep in New Mexico when I was very a very small child and with a small child’s memory all I could think of was how he ran them on the open range with a shepherd and border collie dog. Still, I was willing and said “OK” to the adventure. Little did I know what was coming into my life or how it would affect us for the rest of our lives.
Off we went to the farm of Dempsy and Brenda Perkins. Lloyd had known them most of his life, having grown up in the same area, but I did not know them and so it was my first introduction to this remarkable family. Brenda and I became close friends, spinning and weaving together, and Lloyd even spent one winter helping Dempsy build Brenda’s weaving cabin. Dempsey taught us so much about the sheep and helped us begin to love these beautiful animals.
Dempsey and Lloyd picked out a young weanling ram and 2 ewe lambs for us to bring home to our farm, and the adventure was on its way. We had a lamb born that was peach colored and that caused us to covet the color in the flock. Dempsey found us several black faced ewes, and we worked on what we called the GCNI for many years. Later we were to go into a registered flock, starting with foundation stock from the Perkins farm to establish the registered flock. In 1971 I was in New Orleans going to school for my company when a group of us (ladies) found what was then the Weaver’s Workshop nested in a small shopping center. Ran by 5 ladies, it was a quaint little shop stuffed with yarns and all kinds of beautiful goodies. They were weavers, so they had LeClerc looms also, and right in the middle of the main room, the entry room was a wonderful 4-harness 45 inch wide Nilus Jack loom made by LeClerc of Canada. Of course it was love at first sight and I wanted one in the worst way. So I figured a way to pay for it and shortly one just like it was on the farm, in my house teaching me the basics of humility! Well, of course right away I found out about the cost of fine yarns. Brenda and I talked about what we should do, and how we could get around this big expense. Since both husbands love the sheep, and we had flocks renown for their fine fibers, we knew that we needed to use these very fluffy, impressive animals in our endeavors. Since we had to shear them anyway, and the wool went into the wool pool, we thought that surely we could use some of it for our own use also.
Brenda and I both managed to obtain Ashford Traditional Spinning wheels and then we had to learn how to use them. Having no teachers around, and not knowing the first thing about them we turned to books, and each other. Needless to say it was quite the adventure, and we did in time find other fiber artists did exist. Learning to wash the fiber was enlightening to say the least, and both of us felted our share of fleeces. Dyeing was a roller coaster of events, and we tried it all, rit, cool-aid, etc. That was over 35 years ago.
About 1980 a lady came here with her husband to Fort Polk (he was military) and we met when she applied for a phone. I found that she was a spinner, weaver, knitter and all those things I wanted to be. Her name was Linda, and she became a great friend to both Brenda and myself. She had tailoring school too, so we learned so very much from her. She was always encouraging, with seemingly unlimited patience. I think one of the worst things she could say to one was “that sure is a pretty color”. You knew you had messed up, and we teased her endlessly about it. I think she was here three years, seemed longer and we hated to see her go. Our flock grew, and we developed a line from our Perkin’s sheep that had some of the finest spinning wool. We grew to cherish our flock and enjoyed them so much. The size of the farm grew to about 37 acres, with nice pastures and buildings. The buildings grew and developed as we needed them, and it was a time of growing. The studio evolved into a place I work in so much, with a big weaving room, spinning room, carding/fleece preparation room, knitting room, sewing room, fleece storage room and closets, with a summer kitchen also for dyeing and such with washing facilities encluded.
I met Rhonda Selser at one of the “Wool Days” that Perkins farm had every April which grew into the first 2 Saturdays of April every year. It was a big event for fiber artists and it was not unusual for the attendance to be over 100 each Saturday. Everyone that was into the fiber arts seemed to come, and thats how I met her. She was about 15 years my junior and full of energy, and the love of sheep. She had started a flock of Marsh Romney that she was so excited about. Together with her and my sister in law Susie we gradually formed the “Les trois Amies” group in an effort to sell our products at shows and events. Between the three of us we developed a way to market our fibers, yarns and tools. Then in the fall of 2003 when we had our fall retreat with the SWIC guild (Spinner’s and Weaver’s of Imperial Calcasieu) we decided that we needed to have a fall event. I was hosting a labor day “play day” already that was beginning to outgrow my studio, so we formed the “Cajun Lagniappe” fiber artist group to teach and market our finished goods with 3 other ladies.
In December of 1994 the first Newsletter of the Gulf Coast Sheep Breeder’s Association was published as a group begin to establish a registry for these endangered old breed of sheep. As it stands now there are about 2000 of these animals registered with the association, which places them on the critically endangered breed list. Hopefully they will continue to grow in numbers and popularity. Once they roamed in the tens of thousands throughout the Gulf States, but with the fencing and closing off of the open ranges, the dwindled to the small numbers we see today. Vying with the Navajo Churro as the oldest American breed they were recognized and registered by the ALBC who categorized them as Critical in the Conservation Priority List. This indicates that there are less than an estimated 2000 Gulf Coast Native Sheep world-wide, with 200 or less registrations a year.
Dempsy Perkins talked us into joining the Registry, and we started with Registered breeding stock from his fine foundation flock in 2002 with a ram, Jacque GCA0554 and six ewe lambs, Fawcette GCA0553, Faralee GCA0554, Fionna GCA0642, Faranda GCA0643, Floriane GCA0644, and Felicia GCA0645.
The LSU Agriculture Center at Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) at Pittsboro, NC state that the GCN are early maturing, open faced, thin boned medium sized sheep. The fleeces are white to light brown with a fiber diameter of 26-32 microns. They state they are less seasonal than other breeds, and we have found it to be true, breeding year around. They state that the breed is resistant to Haemonchus infestation, and that they are considered to be foot-rot and parasite resistant. A landrace breed they are a composite breed of Merino, Rambouillet, Southdown, Hampshire, Dorset Horn, Cheviot and Tunis Sheep with natural selection playing a very important part in the development of this highly adaptable and fertile breed, especially under subtropical conditions. Animals developed with conditions of location and influence from the local area sheep. The red coloring of the breed is from the 1800's when Tunis blood was introduced into the breed over 2 centuries ago. Some lines of the Gulf Coast produced dark animals, which are mostly blues, having light coloring on the face, body, and legs. These are beautiful, but mostly the Gulf Coast is a “cream” color. They are horned, polled or scurred, both in the rams and ewes. Dempsey Perkin’s family had Gulf Coast sheep for several generations, and he was a near a genius in the genetics of the Gulf Coast as could be, and he always said the horned animals were the hardiest. Still, we prefer the polled (having no horns) rams, and horned ewes. It makes predicting whether the lambs will have horns or not uncertain.
The ceramics came about because Rhonda is such a procurer of anything sheepish. We couldn’t find any cups or mugs that had fiber themes on them. Susie said that there were not any teapots either, so that started the ceramic pieces. I take a plain mold, work a design, then carve it into the plaster of paris mold. It will pour about 100 times, so they are truely, one of a kind and limited pieces. I do a few once a year, sometimes skipping a year, but try to do at least one or two pieces a year. We work in the wood shop when the farm is not demanding most of our time.
Rita blew in here in force on Sept. 22, 2005, and it blew for 18 hours. We did without power from Sept. 23ed until Oct 7th, and without commercial water from Sept 23ed until Sept 30. It was an ordeal that I hope never to go through again. The storm made the biggest mess, taking down huge old oak, pine, mulberry trees and whatever else it could. It damaged roofs, buildings and moved things around I never thought about moving. All our livestock came through safely, and I fully expected the hens to be in North Louisiana, but they seemed safe in their hen-house, but scared silly. We had the weanling lambs that were in the maternity pasture all over the yard, but safe. We had to replace the roof on the house, repair most all of the other roofs, especially the main barn roof, and damage to most of the buildings. Fences were all damaged at least some. We are still cleaning up behind the storm, three years later. With Gustov and Ike, we figured we were in for it again, but they just skirted around us, scaring us silly. If we had evacuated, all the livestock would have been lost without water or feed. The damage was so great and widespread that the roads were all but impassable in and out of the area, and no one was being allowed to return until the roads were cleared of debris, so we just stayed at home. It was so very hot, but it was dry and we were fairly used to it since mostly we worked outside. We ran the generator to pump water, and for a hour or so at night, but it was old and finally gave up just before we got the power back. We needed a new generator and it was as good a reason as any to get a new one, even if we really didn’t want to have to buy a new one.
It has made it hard to pick up our normal routine, and we are still so far behind. We get slower every year too–and find that there are things that are no longer so important, but the live stock, the sheep are still on top of the priority list. The lambs are such a joy. In 2008 Fionna and Faralee gave us 2 sets of twin ewe lambs. I thought it was so odd because one of the set in each set was so red, face, legs and big spots on their bodies. The other in each set was a faded red/cream without these big markings. Now they have all faded to cream, a dark cream, but those two with all the red still have lots of red on the face and legs. They are so beautiful and spoiled. They will gather around me and when I am working in the barn it feels so good to have them with me. Of course the blue ewe Tony is just as bad along with Jennifer and the bottle baby from Perkins farm right after Dempsey died, Alyssa. I spin a lot of yarn to sell, and try to keep a large inventory of nice yarns in the studio.
Over the years I have learned a number of tricks to control different lengths of fibers. The short fibers seem to be the most difficult to keep together, and the very long ones hardest to draft. I have learned to load the lower half of a card and spin from the tip of the fiber on the card for very short fibers. It started with the big Angora Bunny I named Camie. She was a very large white German Angora with the prettiest red eyes. She came out of Angora Valley in Oregon owned by Pat Fly. My daughter brought her to me on the plane the first time she brought our grandson to see us. She looked like a little pack horse as she came off the plane, baby under one arm, carry on slung over her shoulder, and Camie’s carrier in the other hand. The bunny had the most beautiful soft “fly-away” fiber ever! It was so fine you could hardly get it to stay together, and spinning it was a real lesson. So I learned to brush it on the lower half of the card and spin from there, the only way I could spin her fur. It worked so well that I used it on some short cottons and found that it worked for that as well. It taught me that there is always a way, you just have to find it. So try different methods until you come up with one you can deal with. I learned that you can make some beautiful yarns just by adding a light colored cotton boucle that is very fine to the ply. You can ply it with the single or ply it 3 ply in with 2 nice threads and the affect is surprising in how beautiful it can be. I learned that in plying if you back away from the orifice and let a good arms length between your hand that is holding the threads and the orifice of the wheel, you can let the twist run up the threads and when it reaches your fingers let it go and take up on the bobbin. It will usually make a beautiful balanced yarn that is very nice. It’s a bit like a modified long draw type of spinning. Another thing I have learned is that if you are in the market to buy a spinning wheel, try as many as you can. The one your are so drawn too and think is so beautiful will always be the one you want, even if you don’t really like to spin on it. So it might be to your advantage to get the wheel and sell it when you become less drawn to it. Double treadle wheels seem to sell better than than single treadle, and if you are concerned about resale value keep this in mind. If at all possible, make sure the wheel is double drive as they always have the option to be used as single drive, or Scotch tension (which ever you prefer to say), and therefore they can always be used either way. Scotch tension can only be used as double drive by changing the flyer system and it can be very expensive. Bobbin lead wheel or Indian head have a very strong draw, and are very good for plying. Lacing the flyer will help control this strong draw so you can still spin finer with just a bit of adaption. Always purchase from someone that will work with you, and will make any problems you have right. Sometimes the biggest reputation is not always the best to deal with. Fiber events are lots of fun, and you will find all different kinds of vendors at one. Usually there are workshops with teachers that have much to offer. You may not want to do what they teach, but it will always give you options to use in your own work, and sometimes you will learn what you don’t want to do. You meet lots of nice people, and you will be surprised at how often you see them. I always encourage fiber artists to purchase their fiber from those that produce it, and especially those that use their own fibers. If they use their own fibers, its most likely nice, and I would not want to work with fibers I did not like, even if I do sometimes, or fibers that were not up to all my time and effort. Always try to purchase fibers that are suited to the job you want to do, or if you don’t have something in mind, choose fibers that you will have a use for later on.
If you purchase animals make sure that you get them from reputable breeders that not only care for them, but are concerned about them and their health. Just because a breeder has made a big reputation does not always mean that they have the animals best interests in mind, or yours. Talk to others, and hear what they have to say about the breeder, and visit the location of the facilities where the animals are located. Ask for pictures, and not just one, get several if at all possible. If you can see the parents of the animal, or animals you are wanting to obtain. Keep in mind that animals require lots of time and are expensive to keep, and not just in feed, but housing and medications. They are a responsibility that is yours when you take on their ownership.
Running Moon Farm