Babydoll Southdown Sheep
Babydoll Southdowns are the descendants of the original English Southdown Sheep. Over the years, both in England and in North America, Southdown Sheep were selectively bred to produce larger, leaner and taller offspring—bigger lambs, bigger lamb chops and roasts. Nothing wrong with that if your primary purpose is market lamb production. If, however, you need a sheep that excels in orchard and vineyard grazing, the original Southdowns fit the need ideally. The breed had almost disappeared by the 1960s when, through the efforts of Robert Mock and several other individuals, work was begun on reestablishing these original Southdowns. They are essentially a heritage breed and one of the oldest purebred sheep in the world, and, as such, retain much of the vigor and foraging ability of their forebears. Their broad muzzle, the characteristic that gives them their endearing smile, is what enables them to be such efficient grazers.
Babydoll Southdowns in the Orchard
Babydoll Southdowns with their small, stocky stature and short legs, don't reach very high when they nibble on leaves, and they don't have the predisposition to gnaw on bark. They clean up our downed apples—thereby helping to control damaging insects that winter over in the decaying fruit—add their manure to the earth, and go a long way to eliminating the need for orchard mowing. They are our wonderful wooly orchard workers who earn their keep, while at the same time delighting us. Our flock of sheep is growing and we are excited both by their presence and by the enlivening effect they have on the land.
Babydoll Southdowns are indeed smaller than standard American Southdowns, don't let the name or their wonderful built-in smiles fool you; these are not toy sheep and are not inclined to be cuddly unless they are trained from lambhood to be pets. We consider them working sheep with a job to do around our homestead—grazing the orchard and yards, growing their luxurious, soft wool, producing manure, and providing meat for the table. They were after all originally considered to be a meat breed.
Our two rams run around 150 pounds, and with stocky frames and four feet on the ground, can be a challenge to turn up on their docks. They aren't mean spirted, but during breeding season they would have go at us if we didn't keep an eye on them. The ewes are lighter and more tractable. They may bump each other from time to time, especially if there's food involved, but don't challenge people.
There are at present two Babydoll Southdown registries, the North American Babydoll Southdown Sheep Association and Registry(NABSSAR) and the Olde English Babydoll Southdown Sheep Registry.Both of them contain a wealth of information about the breed and lists of members and breeders. Although we have sheep registered with both of them, we no longer use the Olde English Babydoll Southdown Sheep Registry and since 2013 have registered all our new lambs only with the North American Babydoll Sheep Association and Registry. Our decision to drop Olde English came as a response to their decision to close their registry and no longer accept applications for the transfer registratlion of NABSSAR registered sheep. We had previously followed a policy of dual registering our whole flock and only found out about this change when, a few years ago, we attempted to dual register our current NABSSAR registered ram with Olde English. We are very disapointed with the Olde English policy change and feel that it neither serves the development of the breed, nor the best interests of Babydoll Southdown sheep breeders.
Health and Maintenance
Babydoll Southdowns are easily maintained, requiring, during most of the year, only clean water, a mineral source, and good grass or hay. We no longer feed any dry grain to our sheep since we started growing barley/fieldpea fodder for them. We grow the fodder in large trays on racks, which are automatically watered two or three times a day. Our setup is a dyi project that was inspired by David Capocci's PacaPride Guest Ranch site on fodder production. Not only is the site full of examples and instructions, it is a source of fodder trays that are the perfect size for a home built operation. After two years we are pleased with the health benefits of feedling this fresh, living food. Although growing and processing the fodder is a seven days a week job, if only for 45 minutes or so a day, we feel the time is well spent.
With our sheep we follow, as much as possible, natural and organic guidelines. We use no amendments or sprays in our orchards or paddocks that are not organically approved and source our grain from organic certified sources, mostly from the Buckwheat Growers Association of Minnesota.We feed high quality mixed alfalfa/grass hay in the winter from local sources. Our sheep also share in the garden produce throughout the year, receiving daily treats of apples, squash, carrots, or whatever else we have on hand that we think might be good for them.
We approach animal health pretty much the same way we approach our own, using natural methods. For control of internal parisites we give weekly doses of an herbal wormer that we get fromFir Meadow,Fiasco Farms/Molly's Herbalsor Havilah Farmand use no chemical wormers. We also feed dehydrated nettles and comfrey throughout the winter from plants on our farm, and feed those as well as a medication free Sheep Mineral Mix and mineral rich Redmond Salt. Both Fiasco Farms and Havilah Farm are basically goat operations, but we believe their herbal formulas to be of equal benefit for sheep. During the pasturing season we maintain a weekly grazing rotation using a combination of permanent wire and portable electric net fencing from Premier1in Iowa.
We do regular hoof trimming as well as facial wool trimming on any sheep that need it (and some Babydoll Southdowns need it due to their ample facial wool). We only bottle feed lambs when it is absolutely necessary, wanting the lambs to receive the health benefits from nursing on their mothers and the socialization derived from living in the flock. We leave the lambs with their mothers until they are at least 10 weeks old. We handle our lambs often (at least weekly when giving them their herbal wormer) so they are used to us.