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The History of the Hog Island Sheep

Hog Island is a barrier island off the Eastern Shore of Virginia. About 200 years ago a flock of sheep was established on the island using locally available sheep of British origin. The sheep of Hog Island evolved in response to the island's natural selection for hardiness, foraging ability and reproductive efficiency. Some introductions of outside blood occurred, most recently a Hampshire ram in 1953, but the isolation and selection of the habitat has shaped the population into a distinct breed.

Hog Island sheep are one of the few populations of feral sheep in the United States. Feral sheep are rare worldwide, because sheep do not adapt easily to unmanaged habitats. They occur most often on islands, which lack predators.

Hog Island sheep vary in physical appearance. Most of the sheep are white with spotted faces and legs, though about ten percent are black. Newborn lambs are frequently spotted over the body, bu the spots usually disappear as the lambs mature. Wool is of medium weight and variable in type and amount. Both ewes and rams may be horned or polled. Mature animals weigh 125-200 pounds.

The entire sheep population was removed from Hog Island during the 1970's when the island was purchased by the Nature Conservancy. A remnant flock of the breed is being kept by Gunston Hall, Mt. Vernon and a few other historic sites in Virginia to portray eighteenth century sheep raising. Domestic husbandry of Hog Island sheep will change some of the breed's characteristics, but it can save what remains of this critically rare breed.

Reprinted in part; courtesy of the ALBC.

Status: Critical

For More information:

American Livestock Breeds Conservancy
P.O. Box 477
Pittsboro, NC 27312

(919) 542-5704

www.albc-usa.org

Email: albc@albc-usa.org


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