History of the St. Croix
St. Croix in the U. S. (by K.L. Gerhart, revised and updated from the version KLG posted on stcroixsheep.org)
Hair sheep probably came to the Caribbean on slave ships from West Africa in the 1500s, as a food source. They may also be a cross between the Wiltshire Hrn and the native Criollo. While their origin remains unclear, less than 2 million hair sheep of various types or breeds are found throughout the Caribbean region today.
Foundation in the U. S.
Michael Piel of Maine first brought one ram and two ewe "Virgin Island White" sheep into the U.S. in the 1960s, for use in the formation of the Katahdin breed. A second importation from the Island of St. Croix (US Virgin Islands) of 22 bred ewes and 3 rams was initiated by Dr. Warren Foote of Utah State University (USU), Logan Utah in 1975. (USU had been commissioned by the Shah of Iran to find a breed of sheep that would be good for his people. USU first established a research station on the island of St. Croix & finding the St. Croix so interesting decided to make it a registered breed.) This second importation (group of sheep) provided the foundation animals for the modem St. Croix breed. Selection criteria for these foundation animals included: white coats, average to above-average conformation, average to above-average body size, and lack of horns in both sexes. Small experimental flocks derived from the USU population were established at Florida State University, Clemson University in South Carolina, Cal Poly in Pomona, CA, and several USDA field stations. USU personnel realized the sheep had useful characteristics, and Dr. Foote founded a breed registry in 1988.
Prior to 1983, the breeding at USU was managed as "pasture breeding", with multiple sires breeding ewes in the flock. Thus, the sire is marked as unknown, or is left blank on early pedigrees. Sheep identified on early pedigrees as "yellow" and with registration numbers lower than 100 are original imports from St Croix (including lambs born to ewes that were imported pregnant). Five digit numbers (10001, 10008, etc) are either original imports, or offspring of those imports born at Florida State and returned to USU in 1982-83. ..
Private individuals who obtained flocks early in the breed's history include Neil Simpson, Juan Spillet, Mrs. Gibson, and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller IlI. Simpson's flock registration numbers start in the 100s and he kept excellent records; influential rams of his breeding include Simpson 230 (#594) and Simpson 0062. Spillet obtained his flock from Dr. Homer Ellsworth, who had purchased them from USU. Dr. Ellsworth kept a closed (purebred) flock, but kept no breeding records. Spillet's records were excellent and registration numbers of his sheep start in the 400s; influential Spillet sheep include the ram USU 884 (#1089), and various sheep in the Menig flock. The pedigrees of Mrs. Gibson's sheep can be traced 5 generations to purchases from USU, with registration numbers starting at 161. The Gibson sheep were intensively linebred and heavily culled, resulting in a long-lived, productive lineage, including the influential ram HH802T. Mrs. John D. Rockefeller III registered her flock under the Fieldwood farm name. She obtained her sheep directly from USU and kept good breeding records; her purebred flock was dispersed upon her death and some were purchased by North Carolina State University (NCS) (where no breeding records were kept). Influential Rockefeller sheep include ram #4781 (USU 998 (#1336) x Fieldwood 9032 (#1103).
Due to funding shortfalls, staff turnover, and changes in research focus, most of the research flocks of St Croix sheep have been dispersed. North Carolina State University dispersed their flock in 1998; some of these sheep were purchased by Stephan Wildeus and some by Linda O'Neill (Milfont). Cal Poly, Clemson University, and Florida State have dispersed their flocks. A decision to disperse the Arkansas and Oklahoma USDA flocks was announced in early 2006. The USDA Agricultural Research Station flock in Beltsville, Maryland was also dispersed, though researcher Dr. Joan Burke hoped to retain a small flock of St Croix for an organic farming study. Virginia State University maintains a research flock; the USU flock now consists of about 30 ewes and several rams. The UVI flock on St Croix has reportedly been decimated by several dog attacks, and the 'type' of the remaining sheep is reported (by Charlie Bedinger, a former Assn President) to be very different than that ofthe St Croix sheep in the US.
The St Croix remains a closed breed; however there were imports of some animals and semen from the Island of St. Croix in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The breed is recognized as threatened by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, with fewer than 1000 registrations per year. No formal census of inbreeding levels or lineages within the breed has been conducted. The breed association has about 120 active members.
Much of this information was recorded by Jo Swan from conversations with Dr. Cole Evans, Emeritus Professor, Utah State University, who was Secretary-Registrar of the St Croix Association for many years. Information was also gleaned by Karen Gerhart from various Association members, including Linda O'Neill and Vanessa Harris, from the Association's Newsletter, and from scientists who have published research on St. Croix sheep.
Richard & Liz say a huge "Thank You" to Karen for allowing us to publish this information on our website.