11.27.2014  |   | Subscribe  | Contact us

All News & Blogs

E-mail Alerts

Rare sheep with a history
Stafford's Jeff and Ginny Adams help preserve breed of sheep descended from feral population that once lived on Virginia's Hog Island

 Ginny Adams cuddles with Mauve, her 'lap dog.' Mauve is a 'heritage' sheep, a breed from Hog Island off the Virginia coast.

View More Images from this story
Visit the Photo Place

Date published: 8/17/2003

Stafford farm home to breed from 1600s

Maeve is everyone's favorite. The loud little lamb with the black-speckled face is first out of the barn to greet Ginny Adams when she strides across the pasture calling, "Sheep-sheep! Sheep-sheep!"

Then, in twos and threes, come the other 23 rugged Hog Island sheep on Jeff and Ginny Adams' southern Stafford County farm.

They look slightly different from the picture-book sheep of Serta commercials--they're on the small side, many have spotted fleece, and several, like Maeve, have black-and-white-blotched faces and legs.

Many, both rams and ewes, have curling horns. Even more unusual, several are solid black.

Appearance aside, though, these seem like typical sheep.

If one gets spooked, they all do, moving in a bleating mass of fleece and hooves.

They're prolific at turning grass and weeds into pebble-sized droppings.

And when Jeff or Ginny Adams offers the rare treat of commercial sheep chow, they stumble over each other to get there first.

Maeve, the little favorite, seems tamer than the others. She's practically doglike in her bids for attention, nuzzling up for a pat on the head.

The Adamses are more than happy to oblige. They're genuinely fond of their flock, and they're proud as well.

These are sheep of distinction--a direct link to American history.

As long ago as the 1680s, their ancestors were turned loose on Hog Island, a barrier island between Virginia's Eastern Shore and the Atlantic Ocean. It was a farming decision--the islands were naturally "fenced" by water, and there was plenty of marsh grass and other vegetation.

The Hog Island sheep--probably Spanish merinos--thrived in an environment with plenty of food, no predators and a natural barrier to communicable disease.

For many years starting in the mid-1700s, people also lived on Hog Island. By the Civil War, the population had grown to about 150, and the island had a church. But storms made the island inhospitable, and the last full-time inhabitants moved away in the 1930s.

1  2  Next Page