Santa Cruz Island is part of the Channel Islands off the coast of southern California. Originally inhabited by Native Americans, who had been removed from the island in the 1820s.
Sheep ranching began on Santa Cruz Island in the early 1850s. The first sheep brought o the island were Spanish sheep (possibly Churras) and sheep from England (probably a Leicester breed). Towards the end of that decade Merino rams were brought to the island. By 1864 there were over 24,000 sheep on Santa Cruz Island.
In 1869 the island was sold to a group of investors who formed the Santa Cruz Island Company, who continued the sheep ranching business. Due to severe drought and economic depression in the 1870s, thousands of sheep to be slaughtered for meat, hides and tallow. During the 1880s and 90s ranching was expanded to include grapes and vegetables and grains as well as sheep and cattle. There were a number of ranches operating on the island under the company. At this time Rambouillet sheep were introduced to the island. By 1890 there were around 50,000 sheep on Santa Cruz Island.
There were periods of drought during the early 1900s. By 1917 there were only about 15,000 sheep on the island. Some of the sheep were living wild on the island and would be rounded up on horseback to be sheared or slaughtered for meat.
In the 1930s the Santa Cruz Island Company sold most of the island to Edwin Stanton. He let all the sheep go feral. In 1978 the descendants of Stanton sold their parts of the island to The Nature Conservancy. The other part of the island was owned by two families that continued the sheep ranching business until 1984. Their sheep were Merino and Rambouillet crosses, with some other sheep breeds mixed in.
In the 1980s the feral sheep were hunted for sport through the Islands Adventure Club. Beginning in 1988 the predecessor of the Livestock Conservancy was able to begin rescuing some of the sheep from the island and place them with homes on the mainland.
For a more complete history of the Santa Cruz Island Sheep written by breeder Lynne Moody, please visit http://www.livestockconservancy.org/index.php/heritage/internal/history-of-sci-sheep
Santa Cruz Island Sheep are considered Critically Endangered by the Livestock Conservancy. There are less than 200 of the breed in existence today.
A smaller breed, they range from 80-160lbs. They are bred for their fine wool which resembles its merino and rambouillet heritage.
Many Santa Cruz Island sheep shed their wool yearly and thus have a shorter staple length of 1"-3". Some do not shed, and if left to grow for 2 years may offer a longer staple length. Along with its fineness, their wool is known for its unusual elasticity. It is prized by handspinners lucky enough to have experienced it.
They are well adapted to hot and dry climates, but have done equally as well in colder, wetter climates. They are more parasite and disease resistant than many breeds.