Sunday, May 9, 2010

The St. Croix Hair Sheep

Mother's Day and it's snowing like a blizzard out there! I thought the 6" of snow we had on April 28th was unusual and kind of fun in its novelty, but this is ridiculous! I had planned to garden today but knew as Chloe and I were returning from our early morning walk and I could see snowflakes building up on her black coat that we were in for it! So I thought while I enjoyed my second cup of coffee and before I laid out some felt slippers for next weekend's Footwear and Sox Extravaganza, that I'd blog about another one of the unusual sheep I encountered at the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival last weekend(there's a little blurb on the Ouessant Sheep in the latest newsletter which you can access from the website's homepage if you're interested)...
There were several sheep breeds at the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival last weekend that were new to me. It seemed to be the year for "island" breeds...the Barbados Blackbelly, the St. Croix, and the Ouessant (from a small island off the coast of Brittany)!
None of these are breeds that are going to take the spinning, knitting or felting world by storm since they either have no wool or little wool but just the same, I thought it interesting to learn about them if for no other reason than they are relatviely rare and it is nice to see that there are breeders doing what they can to preserve some of these unusual breeds. Diversity is a good thing.
The St. Croix is a hornless, all white sheep that does not have wool but rather a hollow medular hair that sheds on its own. While shedding, the St. Croix look rather ragged, as you can see from the photo of the sheeps back, above. I wish I could have gotten a photo of a ram's is really lion-like! Unfortunately,the only sheep I could get head shots of were the ewes, shown above. St. Croix's feature a fine grained, low fat meat(my apologies to all vegetarians for talking about them this way!) and since they don't require the cost of shearing, have few hoof problems and a great inherent resistance to internal parasites and fly strike, they make a lot of sense to raise if you're raising sheep for meat.
I suppose the St. Croix hair, like horse hair or the outer guard hairs of other double coated sheep, might be good for spinning into a coarse rug warp or into twine, but from what I gleaned from the handlers at the show about this sheep, if anyone offers you some hair from a St. Croix sheep for your fiber arts activities, you might want to pass on it and save your precious time with a nice wool!

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