Icelandic and Gulf Coast Sheep

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We initially started with Icelandic sheep in 2006. We chose them for several reasons. They are a medium-sized breed, with a long dual-coated fleece that comes in many color/pattern combinations. They are known for being easy lambers and good mothers. They can do very well on good pasture or hay alone, without need for supplementation. Lambs can finish on good pasture. They are naturally short tailed, so no tail docking, and the ram lambs will grow to finished size before breeding season begins, so no castrating is necessary. They are seasonal breeders, like deer, coming into heat in the fall and lambing in the spring. We raise horned Icelandics primarily, but they also come polled.

They are not perfect however (hard to believe!) in that they are very susceptible to barberpole worm (Haemonchus contortus), which is a blood-sucking parasite that can kill if a sheep gets a heavy worm load. The worms can become resistant to wormers used indiscrimately, so we use the FAMACHA method, and only worm individuals when necessary. We also of course select breeding stock which show some natural resistance. In Iceland, where this breed developed, they have few or no stomach parasites, so natural selection for resistance did not happen. In North America we must do our own selection, and many breeders are having great success. We have been fairly fortunate in the years since we started, losing very few sheep to barberpole, but of course battling the other effects of barberpole which are slower growth and productivity.

For the last few years we have been breeding purebred registered Icelandics with the goal of producing and selling quality breeding stock. However, it's become apparent that we do not have the amount and quality of pasture that we'd need to raise enough sheep to make the strictest culling choices, and still have a good selection of sheep left over to breed on. And selling breeding stock has not been easy for us, especially with the economy as it has been, and the number of "cheap sheep" that one can find on places like craigslist and other online forums. While we can sell meat lambs and some wool, it was not enough to justify keeping a larger number of sheep. We were finding that spending a lot of time stressing over our flock and spending more money than necessary was counterproductive to our sanity and finances. So as of the beginning of 2013 we have decided to scale back to just what we can use ourselves for meat and wool.

We also decided to bring in some Gulf Coast sheep to our homestead. This is a breed native to the U.S., having developed over time from the initial Merino-type sheep brought here by the early explorers. They underwent severe natural selection processes in the humid southeastern U.S. but the result was a landrace breed of sheep that is extremely hardy and naturally resistant to barberpole worm, that can tolerate heat and humidity well (which we do get, even up here in NH) and are also easy lambers and good mothers. They are also another mid-sized breed. We knew of a breeder who had kept both Icelandics and Gulf Coast sheep and did some cross breeding, and found that the offspring had better parasite resistance than the purebred Icelandics, as well as better growth, and a fleece more like the Icelandic, which made beautiful pelts. He felt it was a win-win-win for meat lamb production. So we decided to add this breed, and in 2012 bought a half sibling pair. The ram was put with one of our Icelandic ewes, and the GC ewe will be put with an Icelandic ram when she is big enough to breed. We look forward to the results!

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Last update: January 1, 2013