Origin of the Breed
The origin of the California Red Sheep breed traces to a back yard project
of Dr. Glenn Spurlock of the University of California. Around 1970, Dr. Spurlock hoped to construct a larger
meat breed by crossing Tunis with what was, at that time, called Barbado Sheep. There was not an established
registry for the Barbado Sheep until 1996 and the separation of horned and polled genetics did not begin until
2004. Therefore, the exact genetic makeup of the Barbado Sheep used in Dr. Spurlock’s experiment is not
Crossbreds developed from this experiment proved to be remarkable hybrids with resistance to
many of the problems that plagued sheep ranchers. However, they were far from Dr. Spurlock’s goal of larger
wool free meat sheep. Ultimately, Dr. Spurlock abandoned his project, but not before handing it over to Glen and JoAnne Tomlinson. In 1975, Aime and Paulette Soulier of
Winters, California purchased some of the project animals and began improving the original cross with Dr.
Spurlock’s advice to infuse more Tunis blood. They were later joined by Tom Bair and Alice Gardner and
others. Although the first crossbreds came in both the Barbado coloration (often referred to as
badgerface) and the red hues more typical of the Tunis breed, somewhere along the line, the originators of the
breed decided that they preferred the red hues and in due course the badgerfaces were excluded and the
California Red Sheep was born.
In 1985, the California Red Sheep Registry was
established. From 1985 to 2013 there have been over 2200 animals registered. Breeders are now spread
from coast-to-coast in the US and have established a presence in Canada.
California Reds are a medium size sheep with the rams weighing from 200-250
pounds and the ewes averaging 140-150 pounds, although we have owned a rare few ewes topping 200 lbs.
California Red Sheep are celebrated for the magnificent red manes often carried by the rams; occasionally ewes will
exhibit a subdued version of the red mane. All California Red sheep are polled.
The lambs are usually born with a red hair coat, a color that is retained on
the legs and head of the mature animal after the wool comes through which is beige to oatmeal in
color. By adulthood, the legs are free of wool to the knees and hocks and sometimes the
bellies. The heads of both sexes are bold and strong with the muzzles fine, the ears are long and
pendulous, emphasizing the animal’s attractive appearance.
California Red Sheep are generally easy keepers doing quite well on marginal pasture. In
a pasture situation creep feeding lambs is not necessary. The ewes are possessive mothers, usually producing
twins, and are exceptionally good milkers with udder areas being virtually free of wool; so that even the most
timid lambs are able to nurse easily. Their milk is high in milk solids making them excellent candidates for
home dairy use. California Reds breed year-round and ewes can lamb three times in two years.
The meat from California Red Sheep is mild, flavorful and lean combined with their positive response to pasture-raising makes them ideal for the grass-fed
movement. An additional bonus of this breed is a fleece highly prized by handspinning enthusiasts.
Their wool is medium to fine with small soft red hairs interspersed within the fleece which spins into an
exquisite heathery or tweedy yarn. The red hairs accept dye more quickly than the wool; therefore, even
dyed yarns have a tweed appearance.
The most outstanding characteristic of this breed is its endearing disposition. They are
friendly and easy to work with when handled quietly. Overall we have found the California Red Sheep to be a
remarkable and all around versatile breed of sheep. Shear Perfection Ranch is dedicated to preserving them
for future generations. See our conservation