Hog Island Sheep

For years, I maintained a small flock of Hog Island Sheep, a critically-endangered breed of feral sheep, at Vernal Vibe Rise. Although I no longer raise Hog Island Sheep, I found them to be reasonably personable, very hardy, and attractive animals. Like all the livestock I have kept on Vernal Vibe Rise, the Hog Island Sheep were rotated through small paddocks within the organically-managed pasture and I supplemented their grass-based diet with local, cut hay in the winter.

The Livestock Conservancy mentions the following on their website: “Hog Island is a barrier island off the coast of Virginia. Historically, small populations of people and livestock have inhabited Hog Island for hundreds of years. In the 1700’s, 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 introduction of outside blood occurred, but the isolation and natural selection of the habitat has shaped the population into a distinct breed. The sheep numbered in the hundreds on the island at their peak in the early 20th century. 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 easily adapt to unmanaged habitats….

“In the 1930’s a string of hurricanes and “northeaster” storms washed across the island and discouraged humans to continue life as they had in their island community. By 1945 all of the residents of Hog Island had migrated to the Eastern Shore of Virginia and had taken most of their livestock with them. Many sheep remained on Hog Island and continued to thrive as they had for centuries. The annual shearing and notching in the spring was generally the only contact between the owners and their sheep. The sheep roamed freely upon their “floating” pasture consuming the marsh grass at will and imbibing fresh water from small pools that had been dug ankle deep into the sandy soil.

“The sheep were removed from Hog Island in 1974 when the Nature Conservancy purchased the island. Four years later, Virginia Coast Reserve agents found, to their surprise, a thriving flock of sheep on the island. This is a testament to the extreme hardiness of these animals.”

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