A breed of sheep descended from sheep brought to Hog Island in Virginia (USA) in the 18th century, the Hog Island sheep breed is now one of the world’s rarest.
The exact origins of the Hog Island breed are unknown, though they are thought to be descended from Merino sheep, while others suggest an English influence in their genetics. The breed lived on the Island in a feral/wild state, after excessive stormy and hurricane conditions on the island back in the 1930s forced the island inhabitants to flee, abandoning some sheep behind. By 1945, there were no humans remaining on the island.
The breed had since adapted and become completely self-sufficient on the island, with the only human intervention for shearing and tagging purposes.
That was until the island was purchased by the Nature Conservancy in the 1970s, who proceeded to remove the sheep from the island in 1974 due to overgrazing concerns. Despite the best efforts, the sheep continued to live on the island, with one “thriving flock” discovered in 1978.
They were finally removed completely in 1978. Some of the sheep (10 rams and 20 ewes) were sent to Virginia Tech for research into the breed’s superior parasite resistance, while others were rehomed at the George Washington Birthplace National Monument, Westmoreland County, Virginia. The research study found that isolation on the island had helped the breed develop superior parasite resistance.
Picture below - RVANews
Uses and Characteristics -
A small sheep breed, Hog Island sheep are a wool breed, now mainly raised for conservation and wool production purposes.
The breed produces medium wools, with yields from 1.5-3.6kgs! They also naturally shed their wool every year. Due to their endangered status, they are primarily raised for conservation purposes, rather than solely wool. Despite their small size, they are an extremely hardy and strong breed, due to being historically reared under Island conditions. They, as mentioned, have a great resistance to parasites.
At full maturity, Hog Island sheep tend to only weigh between 41 and 68kgs, with rams approximately 57kgs and ewes at 41kgs. They are usually white in colour, with 10% of all Hog Island sheep black in colour. Lambs are usually born with a speckled/spotted fleece. The face and legs of the breed are usually either black and white, black or speckled brown. Rams are horned, with horns growing in and up-downward spiral. Ewes can be either horned or polled.
Picture - Mount Vernon
Ewes have excellent maternal skills and tend to give birth to twins most often. The breed is very alert in nature, again due to their island ancestry, while they are also excellent foragers.
A breed suited to all climates and capable of thriving on its own accord, the Hog Island sheep may have been abandoned by humans back in the 18th century, but thankfully it still hasn’t abandoned us yet.