A Man, a Breed Apart
I was not lucky enough to have spent much time with Dempsy before he died. Although we exchanged several emails over some time, I was only able to meet Dempsy in person once. On my visit to the Perkins Farm I was immediately struck by the impression that here was a man with a burning passion for sharing whatever he could with his fellow human beings. Dempsy is well known as the protector and authority of the Gulf Coast Native Breed of sheep. What may not be as well known is that his entire farm is set up as a teaching venue. He has outdoor classrooms, a wood shop, as blacksmith shop and a fibre arts shop, which he built for his wife Brenda.
Dempsy had a way of imparting knowledge to his audience in such a way that at one time was clear and still quite enjoyable. He held your attention with his obvious knowledge and passion for his chosen crafts. I never had the pleasure of attending Wool Days or any other of his teaching weekends, but his example is always inspiring none the less.
Dempsy Perkins was certainly a breed apart and he has touched so many people with his care, passion and knowledge. He will be greatly missed, even by those of us who did not know him well. This page is dedicated to Dempsy Perkins and the impact he had on so many of us. It will be added to as more information comes from those who knew him.
Dempsy Perkins on GULF COAST SHEEP
The history of Gulf Coast Sheep is somewhat sketchy, but we know that early Spanish explorers left some sheep behind, and these were the foundation stock of our breed. Down through the years gradual blending in of mostly English white-faced breeds occurred as settlers tried crossbreeding on a very limited scale. There is however, some definite Tunis influence in some lines of Gulf Coast Native.
Gulf Coast rams were never seriously challenged by any other breed under open range conditions. The largest numbers of sheep ranged across the deep south within 100 miles of the Gulf Coast. The largest concentration was in Southwest Louisiana where the numbers were in the hundreds of thousands during the 30’s and 40’s.
Since these sheep ran the year round on open range, without a herder, they became very self-sufficient. There was no supplemental feeding at all at any time of the year. Not only did they survive, they really thrived. Winter temperatures here can reach the single digits and the teens are not uncommon. There is hardly any native forage available from November to March. The sheep were rounded up two times each year, once in the spring for docking and marking lambs, and once in the summer for shearing and dipping for ticks. Sheep were never wormed, and they lambed on their own without assistance. You could have called this the survival of the fittest, even though there was an amazingly low mortality rate.
It’s easy to figure that what developed from this era was an extremely hardy sheep. Studies at the University of Florida and Louisiana State University found that Gulf Coast Sheep have some natural resistance to internal parasites. Some flocks have been maintained for years without de-wormers. Foot rot is less likely to occur in these sheep. Gulf Coast Sheep have become adapted to high heat and humidity in summer months and are active breeders during this stressful time.
Gulf Coast Sheep are small to medium sized with adult rams typically weighing 125 -200 pounds and ewes weighing 80-160 pounds. Most sheep are white to tan with a nice medium grade fleece. They have open faces, legs and the bellies are mostly clean. A small tuft of wool on the poll is sometimes present. Both sexes may be polled or horned. Rams and ewes are active breeders all year, and begin at a very young age. Ewes are excellent mothers, lambing without assistance and giving ample milk for two lambs.
-Dempsy Perkins (courtesy of Running Moon Farm)