Also known as the Virgin Island White sheep, St. Croix sheep are considered hair sheep, which are adapted to climates with high heat and humidity. Although rare, they are increasing in numbers as they are raised for cross-breeding studies and purchased by private breeders due to their excellent characteristics.
St. Croix sheep are raised primarily for their meat, characterized by a high slaughter yield, low excess fat and cholesterol content, and a mild overall flavor and aroma. St. Croix sheep carcasses and meat are available for all ages all year round.
To learn more about St. Croix sheep, their history, appearance, distinctive characteristics, tips for taking care of them, breeding, and other interesting information, read this article further!
Croix Sheep History
St. Croix sheep are a breed belonging to the Caribbean Hair sheep. They were developed as a product of the European wooled sheep and the West African hair sheep introduced to the Caribbean in the early 1600s. However, some believe that the St. Croix sheep are a cross between the Criollo sheep and the Wiltshire Horn sheep.
Dr. Warren Foote of Utah State University imported 22 ewes and 3 rams, white and polled, and brought them to the British Virgin Islands. As this group interbred, offspring were selected for consistent characteristics and conformation to standards. Therefore, it prompted the St. Croix to be a standardized sheep breed in the United States.
Today, approximately 5,000 registered St. Croix sheep are in the U.S. This breed is relatively rare but prolific since they breed throughout the year. As they steadily increase in population, some of them are released to private breeders.
What Is a St. Croix Sheep?
What Do St. Croix Sheep Look Like?
St. Croix sheep are a small breed with slick coats that are usually completely white. They can also be brown, tan, black, or white with black or brown spots. These sheep are known for having shorter hair compared to other breeds. Both ewes and rams are polled (hornless), although rams may have scurs (undeveloped horns) and large throat ruffs.
How Long Does a St. Croix Sheep Live?
St. Croix sheep live for about 10 to 12 years, although they stop being productive at around their fifth year.
What Do St. Croix Sheep Eat?
St. Croix sheep are herbaceous animals, which means they primarily eat the grasses, legumes, shrubs, twigs, and other natural forage they graze on. They are also fed hay, silage, wheat, corn, barley, and oats by shepherds, especially when no fresh forage is available. Young sheep are fed with creep feed, a combination of rolled or cracked grains and soybean meal.
How Big Do St. Croix, Sheep Grow?
There is currently no information regarding St. Croix sheep size, but since they are small sheep, they may be around 22 to 24 inches in height.
Are St. Croix Sheep a Heavy Breed?
St. Croix sheep are relatively light, with mature ewes weighing 100 to 120 pounds, while rams weigh 150 to 200 pounds.
What Is St. Croix Sheep Known For?
St. Croix sheep are grown primarily for low-production lamb meat, characterized by its high slaughter yield since it lacks excessive fat and has smaller bones, making it naturally low in cholesterol. Its meat has a mild overall flavor and aroma. Due to St. Croix sheep’s non-seasonal breeding habits, their carcass is available at all ages, year-round.
St. Croix is also used in sheep mating systems due to their high fertility, mothering skills, and ability to rebreed a few weeks after lambing.
Where Do St. Croix Sheep Originate?
They are believed to be descended from African sheep, which were brought to the Caribbean on ships before settling on the island of St. Croix.
What Are the Distinct Characteristics of a St. Croix Sheep?
St. Croix sheep are hair sheep tolerant to high heat and humidity. They grow a heavy coat of combined hair and wool in the winter, which they naturally shed in the spring. As part of their adaptation, they do not require shearing and have exceptional parasite resistance compared to other breeds.
Known for being sexually precocious, St. Croix can breed all year round. They usually produce twins but can also produce triplets and, occasionally, quadruplets. They are also excellent foragers, making them useful for mowing grass and controlling invasive weeds.
Croix Sheep Temperament
Although vigorous and active, they are docile, calm, and have good flocking instincts. This makes St. Croix easy to handle sheep since they do not tend to become wild or flighty. Rams are not known to be aggressive but may butt or charge.
Tips for Taking Care of St. Croix Sheep
Machine sheds, outbuildings, and old dairy barns can be converted into sheep quarters as long as they provide an open, warm, and humid environment. Each sheep should have 15 square feet of space.
In addition to the sheep’s foraging, they must also be provided with a supplementary diet to ensure their nutritional requirements are met. This may be better quality hay or meals such as soybean, cottonseed, linseed, or fish. Grain sources such as corn, barley, oats, spelled, or wheat should also be used.
Sheep diets can be placed in feeders such as fenceline-style feeders, allowing owners to place feed and grain on one side while the sheep access them on the other. Another type of feeder is a walk-through style, which allows owners to place grain in a trough on one or both sides while the hay is placed in the central walking area.
Owners can use any system to provide water for sheep as long as they are fresh and clean. It can be as simple as buckets and troughs to more advanced automatic watering systems, such as those with a float valve or frost-free hydrants.
Pastures should be divided into areas where the sheep can forage at a time. By the time the pasture height of one section has been foraged down to 4 inches in height, the animals should be moved to a new area of pasture. This is done to avoid parasitic larvae, which are mostly found in the first 2 inches of the grass height.
Construct a good quality perimeter fence to contain the animals inside the pasture and keep potential predators out. You can use high-tensile or woven wire fencing.
St. Croix sheep should be tagged, vaccinated, docked, castrated, and dewormed by veterinarians and other qualified professionals. Foot shears or hoof trimmers should also be purchased so that the animals’ hooves can be trimmed.
Common Health Issues of St. Croix Sheep
- Internal parasites such as worms (barber pole worms, meningeal worms, lungworms, and stomach worms) are a common threat that may cause decreased animal performance and, in worst-case scenarios, animal death.
- Foot scald and rot are due to bacteria and can cause severe lameness in the sheep. Symptoms are reddening of the skin found between the claws and foul odor.
Breeding St. Croix Sheep
- St. Croix sheep usually have a gestation period of about 150 days. Lambs reach puberty at 6 months, but they should weigh at least 65% to 70% of their mature weight before breeding them.
- Make the necessary nutritional adjustments to encourage ewes to produce. This is done by increasing the amount of dietary energy for ewes a month before introducing rams. Add grain at a one-half to one pound per ewe rate if you cannot move the entire flock of ewes to a lush pasture where they can forage.
- Do the same diet for rams to help increase and maintain their vigor for breeding.
- House the sheep in a barn, such as a bank barn, lessens the amount of daylight entering the place. This encourages the sheep to begin cycling.
- Once the entire birthing process is finished, place the offspring in a small pen, at least 4 by 4 feet or 5 by 5 feet in size. Dip the navel of the offspring in an iodine solution to reduce the risk of infection. To bond, ewes and their offspring should remain inside the pen for 1 to 2 days.
- Pay close attention to the lambs for the first couple of days after their birth. They should be able to strengthen and appear alert. Grain supplements as a creep feed and the milk they receive from their mothers should be given to the lambs.
Are St. Croix Sheep Good for Meat?
They are grown mainly for meat. St. Croix sheep meat is known to be aromatic and mild in flavor.
Do St. Croix Sheep Need Shearing?
Sheep don’t need shearing since they have shorter hairs than other sheep breeds. Although they grow a winter coat, they naturally shed it in the spring.
How Much Does a St. Croix Sheep Cost?
They are around $200 to $400 each. It depends on whether they are castrated, ewes, or rams.
Are St. Croix Sheep Good Pets?
St. Croix Sheep are good in pets since they have a mild temperament and are not known to be wild, flighty, or aggressive.
Is It Expensive to Raise St. Croix Sheep?
It is mostly a less costly endeavor to raise St. Croix sheep. In the United States, you must shell out around $150 to $300 for one sheep, excluding the cost of sheep.
How Much Space Does a St. Croix Sheep Need?
Each sheep should have at least 15 square feet of space.