Origin and Background
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 know 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 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. For more history on the Registry, see “15 Years and 7832 Babydolls Later and Still Growing!”
The standard for the Olde English “Babydoll” Southdown Sheep was taken directly from the Southdown Sheep Society in England. It is the standard for the original sheep changed only to allow for colors. Only white or mouse colored sheep were allowed under the original standard. The breed description is as follows:
Head: Wide and level between the ears with no sign of slug or dark poll in the whites.
Face: Full, not too long from eyes to nose and of one even color.
Eyes: Large, bright, and prominent.
Ears: Medium size and covered with short wool.
Neck: Wide at the base and well set to the shoulder.
Carriage: Corky legs, short, straight, set on the outside of the body.
Shoulders: Well set, at top level with the back.
Chest: Wide and deep.
Back: Level, with a wide, flat loin.
Ribs: Well-spring and well-ribbed up. Thick through the heart with fore and hind flanks fully developed.
Rump: Wide and long.
Tail: Large and set almost level with chin.
Legs: Full, well let down, with a deep wide twist (including thighs).
Wool: Of fine texture, great density, and of sufficient length of staple covering the whole of the body down to the hocks and knees and right up to the cheeks, with a foretop, but not around the eyes or across the bridge of the nose.
Size: Must be 24″ or under shorn, measured straight up the front leg to the top of the shoulder. Lambing without difficulty is one of the qualities of the “Babydolls;” therefore, ewes under 18″ are discouraged.
Colors: All colors acceptable, black, dilutes, and spotted.