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Babydoll Southdown Sheep History

Babydoll Sheep Lambs Sweetwater Farm Maryland

History of the

Olde English Southdown Sheep we call Babydoll's today

Southdown sheep with the original blood lines have been around for centuries and their lineage is indisputably ancient, reaching back to a time older than the peerage. In 1780 John Ellman, realized the potential of these animals and set out to standardize the Southdown breed. In the twentieth through the nineteenth century’s they were to be found in large quantities, especially in and around the area of the UK called South Downs near Lewes in Sussex England.  It was from here they gained their name “Southdown’s”. 

It has been estimated that there were some 110,000 sheep in Sussex England as far back as 1341. At the time their wool was second only to the Hereford sheep in fineness and quality. In 1813, nearly five centuries later, the Reverend Arthur Young estimated that there were 200,000 ewes kept on the eastern South Downs and commented that "the amazing number they keep is one of the most singular circumstances in the sheep husbandry of England ".

The principal reason for the large concentrations of Southdown sheep on downland farms over these centuries was their crucial role in the maintenance of soil fertility. The large flocks grazed the open downs by day and at dusk they came down to the lower arable land for folding. The downland soils tend to be chalky and not naturally fertile so that the close-folding by the sheep on small areas manured and trod the soil. This meant that bread wheat could be grown successfully the following year. With the gradual introduction of new crops such as field turnips, swedes, kohl Rabi and other forage crops the folding system took off as never before, increasing in parallel with expanding human population. The system reached its zenith in the 'Golden Years' lasting from about 1845 to 1880.

During the Great Depression:

A severe and prolonged fall in the prices of wool and cereals due to rising volumes of imports from the New Countries was accompanied by the Wet Years - a six year period of cold wet weather with little sun. In 1883 the weather relented but the Depression continued. New men and new methods in farming were just beginning to move onto the scene but so sound was the classic downland farming system that even by Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897 the sheep-and-corn system was still intact. The New Century brought with it the establishment of pedigree recording. By 1911 there were 359 registered Southdown flocks containing some 114,495 breeding ewes throughout Britain .

About this time it was noticed that dairy cows were rising in numbers. Fresh milk could not then be imported and dairying became increasingly important in farming's economic survival. But much remained the same until the Great War of 1914-1918 when the large number of folding Southdown flocks declined with some rapidity, as shepherds and farm workers went off to war. By 1922 the short-lived War-time farming boom had evaporated and the 359 pedigree flocks had shrunk to 245. The number of dairy herds continued to grow apace but from 1922 to 1939 the registered Southdown flocks hovered around the 200 mark. Folding flocks were no longer economic and smaller flocks averaged only 135 ewes apiece.

The use of artificial fertilizers had gained ground and the combine-drill, which sowed grain seeds and fertilizer together, rendered close-folding by sheep unnecessary. Gradually surrendering to basic arable farming changes, the Southdown became largely a grassland breed. During the inter-war years the United Kingdom became known as the stud-farm of the world in all the farm species and pedigree Southdown’s were still being exported to most parts of the world, with New Zealand taking the lion's share. In 1937 the number of exported Southdown’s reached 459 head.

In 1939 World War II again intervened and the Southdown breed was once more hit badly. The South Down hills were commandeered for military training, only fringe farms being left producing milk for the towns, the others misused as target practice and their very nature changed by the demolition of all the traditional farm buildings. It is believed that the original Southdown breed reached the United States in 1803. Their popularity grew because the Southdown’s were very easy to take care of and were resilient to many problems that other sheep are known for. They later declined in nearly the same pattern that had occurred in England . One other factor that affected the original blood lines was the 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 in the US .

 Here in the United States, breeders of the original Southdown blood lines now call them “Olde English Southdown’s” or Babydoll Sheep as a way to distinguish them from the more mainstream breed the “American Southdown’s” that originated from the original blood lines from England that we now call Babydoll Sheep.  The American Southdown’s were developed by breeding the original Southdown blood lines to larger breeds of Southdown’s from other country’s to create a sheep that could compete with the other larger meat breeds in the US.  However, many of the original attributes the original Southdown’s were known for bred out of the American Southdown’s blood lines. Because of the popularity of the larger American Southdown each year brought a further decline in the number of the original Southdown sheep that had the original look and Southdown bloodlines.

The original breed of Southdown’s numbers fell and became a rear breed for some time and was placed on the endangered watch list by the “Rare Breeds Survival Trust” in the UK .

In 1986 here in the United States , Mr. Robert Mock had an interest in the original breed of Southdown’s, and began a search for the sheep with blood lines that conformed to the original Southdown’s of the 1700's. However, finding them proved to be very 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. Mr. Mock continued his extensive search and by 1990 he was able to find a total of 350 of the Southdown sheep that had the original bloodlines, and many of them still carried their original Southdown registration papers  recognized by the UK .

To distinguish these small sheep from the larger modern-era Southdown, Mr. Mock named them “Olde English “Babydoll” Southdown’s" or Babydoll Sheep for short. To keep this line pure a foundation flock we collected by finding the last remaining original blood line Babydoll sheep that was in the US. Only adults Babydoll sheep that were 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 Babydoll Sheep Breed Association Mr. Robert Mock started. After this initial review and acceptance period, the "Foundation Flock" registry was closed in 1991. Subsequently, the process of registering lambs from this newly established foundation flock began.

The Babydoll Sheep registry now celebrates many years of success with the preservation of the original blood line Southdown sheep we call Babydoll Sheep. It gives my wife and me great pleasure being part of the preservation of this wonderful little sheep. But most of all Babydoll Sheep are a wonderful animal to own…

 Babydoll Sheep Babydoll Lambs Sweetwater Farm Maryland

Babydoll Sheep and lambs and some of their uses:

Babydoll Southdown sheep are outstanding pets that produce wonderful wool that is a hand spinner’s delight. Owners of Babydoll sheep discover the large world of fiber animals that is as much of an art form as it is a craft. They provide organic weeding and make excellent companion animals. They are a wonderful investment opportunity if you’re interested in becoming a breeder.

Babydoll Sheep and lambs make wonderful pets:

Babydoll sheep make excellent farm animal pets for children and adults alike because of their gentle nature. With some help from mom and dad, children will learn many responsibilities that only seem to come with owning a farm animal like the Babydoll Sheep. Children who join any 4H club learn many life lessons with the help from their Babydoll Sheep as they work side by side other 4H members in their club. Their gentle nature makes them a joy own and easy to work with.

Babydoll Sheep Wool:

Back when the Babydoll Sheep registry started ten samples of Babydoll Sheep fleece were tested and found to have a micron count between 19 - 22 microns. This puts the Babydoll Sheep fleece in the same class of Cashmere. The Babydolls fleece also has more barbs per inch than any other wool types making it an ideal fiber to blend with either Angora rabbit, Angora goat, or any produce a wonderful wool that is a hand spinner’s delight.

Babydoll Sheep Babydoll Lambs Sweetwater Farm Maryland

Babydoll Sheep as Gardeners:

Weeding trails were sponsored and monitored by the association, utilizing Babydoll Sheep as organic weeders. Babydoll Sheep have been used with great success in wine vineyards, fruit and berry orchards as they will not harm the fruits, girdle trunks of trees, or harm shrubs. They leave the grounds well groomed as well as fertilizing as they graze. I would like to add Sweetwater Farm has some of the cleanest fences in town because our Babydoll Southdown’sheep work together with our goat’s as they remove anything that may grow on them as well as many unwanted plants in our pastures.


Babydoll Sheep and Lambs as Companions:

Babydolls Southdown Sheep are wonderful companion animals for other non-aggressive livestock. Their calm docile disposition has a soothing effect on other livestock. We keep our Babydoll Sheep with our horses and goats all in the same pasture. They should not be kept with intact male Llama’s or alpaca’s because there is a chance they may attempt breeding with the Babydoll Sheep. When your new Babydoll sheep or lambs come home with you it is wise to introduce them gradually to other livestock you may own. By separating them at first in separate paddocks area where they can see all of the other animals is the best way to give them the time they need to feel at home. This gives their new friends an opportunity to say hi without it becoming overwhelming to the Babydoll sheep when they get to their new home.

Babydoll Sheep Babydoll Lambs Sweetwater Farm Maryland        Babydoll Sheep Babydoll Lambs Sweetwater Farm Maryland

 Babydoll Sheep Babydoll Lambs Sweetwater Farm Maryland        Babydoll Sheep Babydoll Lambs Sweetwater Farm Maryland 


Babydoll Sheep require the same care as other sheep breeds such as hoof trimming, worming, vaccinations, shearing once a year. They need shelter to get out of the sun, rain cold when they feel they had enough. The feed for Babydoll Southdown sheep is not as costly as with larger breeds because they eat much less.

Like any animal they need shelter to get out of the elements when they feel the need. Even Polar Bears have to get out of the wind every now and then. If you plan on breeding they will need more care and shelter during lambing time. Salt and mineral blocks are important for good health but you must make sure you do not give any breed of sheep any feed or mineral that has copper. The copper that is found in horse feed for example is like poison to the Babydoll sheep.

Because Babydoll Southdown sheep are one of the oldest breeds of sheep that came from England it has been suggested that because of the age of their bloodlines is the reason they are not prone to many of the modern sheep problems you see with other breeds of sheep. Babydoll sheep are very hardy and quite resistant to things like foot rot. In general you care for Babydoll sheep like any other sheep which includes worming, hoof trimming, and vaccines once each year. All are very easy to do yourself. We can teach you how to do it everything you need to know to do it all yourself. 


Babydoll sheep do not challenge fencing and they do not require much of a fence to keep them in a given area. However, good fences are essential for their protection from any predator animals. The most important fence does not keep the Babydoll sheep in, but it keeps the predators out. More to the point, a good fence will keep out the neighbor’s dogs that run loose that may harm your Babydoll sheep if they can get to them.

Why Everyone Loves Their Babydoll Southdown sheep:

 Babydoll Sheep have that trademark beautiful woolly teddy bear face that always looks like they are giving you a smile when they see you. Their short legs and their ability to do very well in small areas are some of the reasons they were so popular 200 years ago as they are today. And the Babydoll Sheep wool is wonderful.

They are ideal for suburban lot owner who want the tranquility of Babydoll sheep as living lawn ornaments. After a long day at work it is very enjoying to sit in your pasture as they all gather around you because you have a bag of animal’s crackers and they are looking for that cookie hand out. Both Babydoll ewes and Babydoll rams are poled (have no horns) and are non aggressive by nature. They do not test or bother fences. The Babydoll ewes are very good mothers, often raising twins with ease.

 Babydoll Sheep Babydoll Lambs Sweetwater Farm Maryland


Babydolls Sheep were almost lost:

Babydoll Southdown sheep with the original blood lines were almost lost here in the US. Their numbers were at one point so low in the UK where they came from they were place on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust List (RBST) http://www.rbst.org.uk/  as an endangered species.  The Babydoll sheep are still very much few in numbers, but they are doing much better and just recently was removed from the Rare Breeds Survival Trust List.

One Important Note:

Because of their strong flocking instinct the Babydoll sheep do not do well living without their own kind as companions. They thrive on companionship and must be with their own kind or at least another breed of sheep. Due to this fact, lambs will only be sold in pairs if the buyer does not already have companion sheep at their home for their lamb to live with.

But most of all Babydoll sheep and Babydoll lambs have been a wonderful addition to our family farm and can be a wonderful addition to your family that will give you years of pleasure…

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Updated: October 25, 2015

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