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A Part of Florida History

Over the years, numerous studies have documented the parasite resistance of the "Native" sheep of the Southeast (Florida and Gulf Coast Natives), including the lack of a periparturient egg rise. These breeds represent a valuable genetic resource to the US sheep industry, as it grapples with ways to combat widespread anthelmintic resistance.

The Florida Cracker is a heritage breed and one of the oldest breeds of sheep in the United States. It believed to have descended from sheep (Churro) brought to Florida during the 1500's by Spanish explorers. After being abandoned by the settlers, the sheep roamed free for centuries, gradually and naturally adapting to the hot, humid conditions of Florida. Other breeds were introduced to "improve" the breed, but most succumbed to the harsh conditions.

In the early 1900's, the Florida Cracker came close to becoming extinct. A flock was established at the University of Florida. A breed association was established in 2007 to save the breed. Despite recovery, the Livestock Conservancy still lists the breed's status as "critical," meaning there are fewer than 200 animals registered in the US and less than 2000 animals worldwide.

The name Florida Native name was changed to Florida Cracker to better reflect the breed's heritage and to differentiate it from other breeds using the term Native. Florida Cracker refers to colonial-era English and American pioneer settlers and their descendants in what is now the U.S. state of Florida (Wikipedia).

Though frequently clustered with Gulf Coast Native sheep, the Florida Cracker is a genetically distinct breed. Because they are a landrace (unimproved) breed, Florida Crackers vary in size and appearance. Their bodies are covered in wool, but their face and legs are clean. They are naturally polled, but scurs are possible. Many sheep show red markings, common to the Tunis.

According to the breed's web site, breed characteristics include: moderate size, high fertility, year-round breeding, good maternal instincts, and good milking ability. The breed's size and parasite resistance makes it well-suited to Florida's rough pastures and sub-tropical climate.

Source: Florida Cracker Sheep Association. Image reprinted with permission of association.

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