Santa Cruz Sheep

The Santa Cruz sheep is a breed of domestic sheep from United States. Today it is an extremely rare breed that once existed as a feral population on the Santa Cruz Island of the Channel Islands of California.

It is named so for the Santa Cruz Island. These animals have been on the island for at least 70 years and perhaps as long as 200 years.

Local story suggests that these animals were moved onto the island in the early 1800s. During that time, thousands of sheep grazed freely on the island.

The Nature Conservancy acquired ownership of nearly all of Santa Cruz Island in 1978. The sheep had overgrazed the island and threatened the survival of indigenous vegetation.

And in the year of 1980, The Nature Conservancy began a sheep eradication program in an effort to save the island ecosystem from further destruction.

The Livestock Conservancy convinced TNC of the importance of the free-ranging sheep, and the two organizations agreed to cooperate in a rescue effort to conserve a portion of the population.

12 lambs were brought off the island by a team of Nature Conservancy and Livestock Conservancy volunteers in the year of 1988.

The sheep were placed with five California breeders and a conservation effort was begun. And in the year of 1991, the Livestock Breed Conservancy member Earl Crews brought additional animals off of the island.

Currently the Santa Cruz sheep breed is considered as ‘critical‘ by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. The domesticated population has now increased to about 150. Read some more information about this breed below.

Santa Cruz Sheep Characteristics

The Santa Cruz sheep are small sized breed, like many other island-adapted animals. They are usually white in color, but black, brown and spotted sheep are also found in the population.

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They have fine to medium fleece which is very soft. They have little to no wool on their bellies, faces and legs. Many animals have short, woolless ‘rat’ tails. Both rams and ewes usually have horns.

As a smaller sized animal, average live body weight of the Santa Cruz sheep is between 36 and 68 kg. Photo and info from The Livestock Conservancy and Wikipedia.


The Santa Cruz sheep is a wool sheep breed. It is used mainly for wool production.

Special Notes

The Santa Cruz sheep are smaller sized animal but they are extremely hardy. They are very good foragers and need no assistance with lambing.

They are unique among formerly feral island sheep breeds in their medium to fine wool with a soft feel, because of the fine-wooled breeds that they are derived from.

They have a very high survival rate, and an ability to thrive on marginal forage. However, review full breed profile of the Santa Cruz sheep in the following chart.

Breed NameSanta Cruz
Other NameNone
Breed PurposeMainly wool
Special NotesVery hardy and strong animals, well adapted to local climates, very good forages, need no assistance with lambing, lambs have a high survival rate, have an ability to thrive on marginal forage
Breed SizeSmall
Weight36-68 kg
Climate ToleranceNative climates
ColorMainly white, but black, brown and spotted animals are also found
Country/Place of OriginUnited States

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