St. Croix Hair Sheep

Origin and History - ST. CROIX HAIR SHEEP

The St. Croix Hair sheep was brought to the U.S. via the Caribbean Isle of St. Croix. It is largely thought that the hair sheep was brought to the island on slave ships originating from West Africa in the 1500’s, primarily as a food source.

Origin ancestry could be a cross between the Wiltshire Horn sheep and the native Criollo on St. Croix Introduction to the United States In the 1960’s, Michael Piel, a resident of Maine, first brought two ewe and one ram “Virgin Island White” sheep to the States. In 1975, Dr. Warren Foote of Utah State University (USU) imported 3 rams and 22 ewes which provided the basis of the modern St. Croix breed. A variety of selection criteria developed the small experimental flocks from that population to addition study and growth at Florida State University, Clemson University, Cal Poly (CA) and several USDA field stations. Dr. Foote then founded a registry in the 1980’s after realizing the sheep had useful characteristics.


Pasture breeding was the norm until 1983 when more organized monitoring and registration took place. Sheep with registration numbers lower than 100 where considered originating in St. Croix. Private individuals who kept excellent records helped maintain the integrity of the lineage and some can be traced all the way back to the original flocks from Florida State and USU. These include Neil Simpson, Mrs. Gibson, Mrs. John D. Rockefeller III and Juan Spillet. Others like Dr Homer Ellsworth kept a closed flock but didn’t keep breeding records. Due to budgetary shortfalls and changes in research focus a majority of the flocks have been dispersed, with Virginia State University and USU being the two universities that have maintained a research flock.

Present day status

The St. Croix has kept its lineage closed but some recent imports from the island of St. Croix that may have infiltrated the States. The breed is recognized as threatened (American Livestock Breeds Conservancy) with fewer than 1000 registrations a year. There has been no formal census of breeding lineage; the breed association has about 120 active members.

Hair sheep vs wool sheep

All sheep have a combination of hair and wool; however, the breed of sheep will determine if it is a ‘hair’ sheep or a ‘wool’ sheep. Since wool is not as profitable as it once was, sheep are primarily looked at for their meat. Hair sheep are gaining in popularity due to their easy care nature, good disposition and lower maintenance upkeep compared to other breeds of sheep.

Why St. Croix hair sheep?

The St. Croix sheep are considered to be an easy-care sheep that most people find attractive, it’s a hardy medium sized hornless white hair sheep. The coat is smooth during summer, getting thicker during winter with mixed hair and downy undercoat. They will shed their coats so therefore never require shearing. The male ram can weigh up to 200 lbs and ewes up to 150 lbs with weight of twins at birth averaging 7 lbs. They are active and vigorous without having tendencies of being wild. They also show greater resistance to internal parasites than most other sheep, haired or wooled. The ewes can produce up to twice a year usually bearing twins, frequent triplets and occasionally having quadruplets. Their meat is mild flavor and tender quality with higher carcass yield due to smaller bone size.