I have decided to focus this month on Gulf Coast Sheep rather than Bluefaced Leicester because of a pleasant ovine encounter that I had on Sunday. My husband and I visited the small but mighty Coggeshall Farm Museum in Bristol Rhode Island. This living history museum is set in the year 1799 and depicts a small tenant farm. The house is the original house that was there and has furniture, period kitchen items, hearth cooking, and workshop activities that reflect the goings on in the lives of ordinary people of that time.
We were there on a cold late morning when snow was about to arrive and had the three friendly and knowledgeable interpreters to ourselves. I was bundled up in my handspun hat, cowl and mittens and my LL Bean coat and was not cold at all. None of the animals were shivering either. We enjoy visiting house museums and those with barns are my favorites. My top interests are always wool spinning and any animals of course. This place has all of that and the animals and poultry are heritage breeds that would have been found on this farm in 1799. Here is a little of what I found in the house.
Let me at them! But even better was who came out of the barn.
Gulf Coast Sheep! One of my favorite breeds-let me at them! So as not to be neglectful I should add that the heritage chickens, turkeys and cows are also wonderful. This is a Devon cow which is a very old breed used for both milking and meat.
For that fun reason of just having seen them I decided to change my fiber focus this month to the rare breed Gulf Coast Native Sheep. I’ll get back to the BFL later on for sure. Gulf Coast sheep ancestors were brought to the southeast of North America by French and Spanish explorers. Many were later abandoned, became feral and were able to survive on their own due to good foraging skills, toleration of heat and cold, resistance to parasites and resistance to foot rot. All are domesticated now yet they retain these hardy qualities, instinctively are good mothers and their wool and meat (yikes) can both be used. They are considered to be one of the few uniquely North American breeds and are not found elsewhere in the world.
The breed’s wool staple length is 2.5” to 4” which means that is the length their fleeces grow in one year. The micron count of the fleece, which refers to the diameter of individual fibers and determines softness/coarseness is 26-32 microns. Lower micron counts correspond with softest fleece. A count of 21 or below is often considered the range of fiber that will be comfortable next to the skin for most people although many can tolerate higher counts. I don’t know the micron count for my Gulf Coast fiber which comes from three unrelated sheep- Sophie, Fernando and Henna- however I subjectively think two would be on the lower and softer end and one is on the coarser. The softer wool can be used for mittens or outer socks and all the fiber can be used for many other items such as bags, or in weaving or rug hooking. It takes dye beautifully.
Okay, enough history and facts for now although I myself can never get enough of either. Next post will show you my lovely Gulf Coast fiber and tell you where it came from and some of my plans for it. Even I don’t know what the plans are right now. Until then I would love to hear about others experiences with these fantastic sheep and their fiber! This is truly a rare breed that needs to be preserved both for its tenacious place in history and for its hardy qualities that make it an animal with fewer health needs than many. Coggeshall Farm Museum is definitely a place that deserves a visit and helps us at this time of year to remember the tenacity of the human spirit in the winter of 1799, and the winters that followed, as well!