Origins of the Olde English Babydoll Southdown Sheep
(as told by Mr. Robert Mock)
One of the oldest of the English breeds of sheep is the Southdown, originating on the South Down hills of Sussex County, England. These small sheep were known for their extreme hardiness and produced meat with unmatched tenderness and flavor then any other breed of sheep.
In 1780, John Ellman realized the potential of these animals and set out to standardize the Southdown breed. In England, these small Southdowns grew in popularity up until 1908 when there were approximately 367 registered flocks totaling about 110,000 ewes. The growth in this breed's development slowed in the early 1900s as World War I brought a sharp decline in their numbers. By the end of the World War II, the demand for larger cuts of meat had almost forced the breed into extinction.
It is believed that the breed reached the United States in 1803. Their popularity grew and later declined in nearly the same pattern that had occurred in England. The small Southdown could not satisfy the consumer demand for larger meat cuts. This was a significant factor in the development and mass production of the larger, leggier Southdown of today. This divergence from the original breed standards was the beginning of what would later become two distinct lines: The Southdown and the miniature (or original) Southdown. In breeding for these larger characteristics however, many of the original "miniature" attributes were bred out and nearly lost. Each year brought a further decline in the number of these "original" Southdowns.
In 1986, Mr. Robert Mock (Mock Registry) began a search for the sheep with the original blood lines that conformed to the original Southdown of the 1700s. Finding them proved to be difficult. At one point they were believed to be extinct. After a four-year search, two small flocks totaling 26 sheep were located; however, this group would not be able to provide a sustainable gene pool. After further extensive searching, a total of 350 of these miniature sheep were located. Many of them still carried their original Southdown registration papers.
To distinguish these small sheep from the larger modern-era Southdown, Mr. Mock named them “Olde English Babydoll Southdowns." To keep this line pure, a registry was formed. Only adults two years and older were accepted so that they could be judged against the original conformation standards as verified by a veterinarian. Each sheep's registration application was passed before a board of three members of the Breed Association. After this initial review and acceptance period, the "Foundation Flock" registry was closed in 1991. The term "Foundation Flock" is still used to refer to this original pool of sheep. Subsequently, the process of registering lambs from this original foundation flock began.
To see our involvement with the Mock Registry, check out our Registrations & Certifications.
While these rare sheep continue to be bred and their numbers are improving, there are only about 300 Olde English Babydoll Southdown breeders worldwide. In Canada, there are less than a dozen breeders. And please note that to be a considered a breeder, all one would need is one ewe and a ram. With 13 sheep, our little flock is reported to be the largest purebred, registered Babydoll breeder in Canada, according to Mr. Mock of the Mock Registry. By 2015, we expect to be producing about 60 lambs each spring. While this does help to alleviate some of the Waiting Lists, please understand that as a rare breed, it goes without saying that you may have to wait on a list for a year or two to get a lamb. Please contact our little flock if you are interested in getting a lamb or two, or perhaps starting your own breeding flock.
OLDE ENGLISH BABYDOLL SOUTHDOWN SHEEP - BREED INFORMATION
Temperature: 101.5-103.5°F (38.5-39.5°C)
Heart Rate: 70-80 beats per minute
Respiration: 12-20 breaths per minute
Ruminal Movements: 1-2 per minute
Natural Lifespan: 10-15 years (however, the oldest sheep in the Guiness Book of World Records, an Australian ewe aptly named Lucky, is 22-plus years of age and still going strong)
Age at Puberty: 5-10 months (singles cycle younger than lambs from multiple births)
Breeding Weight: 60%-75% of adult weight (for a Babydoll ewe that is 18 months old)
Heat Cycle: every 13-19 days
Heat Duration: 24-48 hours
Ovulate: 20-30 hours after the onset of estrous
Length of Gestation: Average 147 days; normal range 138-159 days (averages may vary slightly by breed; early maturing ewes have shorter gestation periods)
Number of young: 1-3 (singles or twins are the norm for Babydolls)
Breeding Season: August-February
Age at puberty: Average 5-7 months or 50-60 percent of mature weight (some breeds reach puberty much younger than this)
Primary rut: August-January
Breeding ratio: 1 adult ram to 35-50 ewes; one ram lamb to 15-30 ewes
*information used was taken from "Storey's Guide to Raising Miniature Animals" by Sue Weaver
SHEEP PHYSIOLOGY (ADULTS)