Babydoll Sheep

Features of the Babydoll Southdown Sheep

What are Babydoll Sheep?

Babydoll Sheep are the traditional type of small and short legged Southdown sheep. The following information gives the earliest and most significant descriptions of the traditional small, speckle-faced Southdown Sheep as they were bred in the late eighteenth century and subsequent breed standards help to chart the changes bred into the original sheep that had roamed the South Downs since before the Norman Conquest of 1066.

"No horns; a long speckled face" - says Arthur Young in 1788

Southdown sheep are polled which mean they do not have horns. The evidence is provided by famed agricultural writer Arthur Young who put pen to paper after visiting John Ellman at Glynde. This description was probably first published in the "Annals of Agriculture". He described the true, wellbred 'South Down' of 1788 in the following terms:

"No horns; a long speckled face; clean and thin jaw, a long but not a thin neck; no tuft of wool on the forehead, which they call owl-headed, nor any frizz of wool on the cheeks; thick in the shoulder; open-breasted and deep; both fore and hind legs stand wide; round and straight in the barrel; wide upon the loin and hips; shut well in the twist, which is projection of flesh on the inner part of the thighs, that gives a fullness when viewed behind, and makes a South Down leg of mutton remarkably round and short, more so than in most other breeds; thin speckled leg and free from wool; the belly full of wool; the wool close and hard to feel, curdled to the eye, and free from spiry, projecting , or staring fibres. Those flocks not bred with particular care and attention are apt to be coarse-woolled in the breech, but some are fine all over; weigh, fat, from twelve in eighteen pounds a quarter .... The wool is the finest in England, the Hereford alone excepted; the mutton has no superior, and in hot weather does much better than the Norfolk, and they are constantly folded ... all three points of the first importance." "

John Ellmans own account of an improved South down sheep:-

'The head small and hornless ; the face speckled or grey, and neither too long nor too short; the lips thin, and the space between the nose and eyes narrow ; the under jaw or chop fine and thin ; the ears tolerably wide, end well covered with wool, and the forehead also, and the whole space between the ears, well protected by it, as a defence against the fly ; the eye full and bright, but not prominent ; the orbit of the eye (the eye-cap or bone) not too projecting, that it may not form a fatal obstacle in lambing ; the neck of a medium length, thin towards the head, but enlarging towards the shoulders, where it should be broad and high, and straight in its whole muse above and below ; the breast should be wide, deep, and projecting forwards between the fore-legs, indicating a good constitution and a disposition to thrive. Corresponding with this the shoulders should be on a level with the back, and not too wide above ; they should bow outwards from the top to the breast, indicating a springing rib beneath and leaving room for it ; the ribs coming out horizontally from the spine and extending far backward, and the last rib projecting more than the others; the back flat from the shoulders to the setting on of the tail; the loin broad and flat; the rump long and broad; and the tail set on high and nearly on a level with the spine ; the hips wide ; the space between them and the last rib on either side as narrow as passible, and the ribs, generally presenting a circular form like a barrel ; the belly as straight as the back; the legs neither too long nor too short ; the forelegs straight from the breast to the foot, not bending in at the knee, and standing far apart both before and behind ; the hocks having a direction rather outward, and the twist, or the meeting of the thighs behind being particularly full, the bones fine, yet having no appearance of weakness, and the legs of a dark colour ; the belly well defended with wool, and the wool coming down before and behind to the knee and too the hock ; the wool short, close, curled, and fine, and free from spiry projecting fibres'.

John Ellman's account was described by the 'The Rural Cyclopedia: Or a General Dictionary of Agriculture of 1849' as still providing the best description of the '.. breed except that no spot or speckling on the face can now be endured by good breeders.. '

Description of a Southdown Sheep from the British Flock-Book of 1899

Here is one of the earliest British breed standards printed in a British Flock Book for the Southdown Sheep and already the standard was changing from what was described by John Ellman and Arthur Young:

In a good Southdown you look for a head wide and level between the ears; eyes large, bright and prominent; ears of medium size, covered with short wool; face full, not too long from eyes to nose, and of one even mouse colour, not approaching black nor speckled with white; shoulders well put in, the top level with the back; chest wide and deep; back level, with wide and flat loin, the whole covered with firm flesh; tail large, and set on almost level with the chine; thighs full, well let down, with deep, wide twist , ensuring a good leg of mutton; legs a “mouse colour”, and outside the body, the whole of which should be covered with a fine, close and even fleece down to the hocks and knees and right up to the cheeks, but there should be no wool around the eyes or across the bridge of the nose; the skin should be of a delicate and bright pink, the carriage gentlemanly, and the walk that of a thoroughbred.

You can see how the breed description has been altered and in some cases corrupted over time.

Tracing Bloodlines

Our Babydoll Sheep are derived from traditional Southdown sheep and our first sheep which form the basis of our flock, were purchased from Hillgrove Stud in 2015. These Southdowns were chosen for Dolwen Stud because Hillgrove was one of the earliest Southdown studs and they had taken an active decision not to update their flock to the modern type of Southdown. In the words of the Metcalf brothers they had kept to the "Original Southdown". For a long time they have maintained a closed flock for breeding with five families of sheep to maintain seperate breeding lines. Going back a bit further using the flock books you might find a limited amount of Southern Pastures blood mixed in with the Hillgrove flock and I am informed that these were very carefully selected from this renowned stud. It is thanks to their decision not to modernise, that Babydoll Sheep derived purely from Hillgrove stock or stock that can be traced back on all lines to the Hillgrove Stud are the closest that you will find to the Southdowns that were once common in Australia back when the Metcalfe brothers founded their Southdown stud in 1921.

The Hillgrove bloodlines are widely known to be the purest genetics available in Australia to satisfy the needs of the Babydoll market and they are in short supply. If you want to be a serious breeder of Babydoll sheep it’s important to be patient and to seek out these Hillgrove genetics and to buy your stock from breeders who run a tight breeding program so you need to do your homework on tracing the bloodlines back using the ASSBA flock books. At the same time, if you are not buying directly from the Hillgrove Stud, you also need to check the physical appearance of the sheep to make sure that the sheep you are buying don’t have features that are peculiar to the modern breed of Southdown or even a different breed of sheep altogether. This can happen because the breeder could not find any purebred Babydolls to start their breeding program. We need new breeders to be aware of the pitfalls and for established breeders to adopt a high standard and to be honest in respect to their breeding program so that we don’t waste valuable genetics..

Southdown Australia Inc provide a good description of the characteristics of the modern Southdown sheep.


21 Pomonal East Rd