The Southdown by Frank S.
Springer, Secretary, American Southdown Breeders' Association,
Springfield, Ill. 
The following was written in 1917.
The Southdown is probably the
oldest breed of sheep in existence. There is a distinct
record of this breed through agricultural writings for more than two
The breed originated in the low range hills in southeastern England, known as the Southdowns, which extend through the counties of Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, and Dorsetshire. The development of the Southdown has been through selection. While this breed has undoubtedly been used for the improvement of some of the other Down breeds, the introduction of new blood in the Southdowns has been unsuccessful.
The great improvers of the breed were John Ellman, of Glynde, and Jonas Webb, of Babraham. During more than one hundred years of careful selection and breeding, the horns have been eliminated and there has been a wonderful improvement in the carcass, especially in the forequarters, neck, and rump.
Southdowns are found in practically every country and their distribution is almost universal. They are found in many parts of England and exportations have been made to every civilized country.
Southdowns were first imported into the United States in large numbers in 1803, and importations from England have been made continuously since that date.
The breed can be found in all sections of the United States, but seen in larger numbers in the eastern and southern states. In the regions of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia, were spring lambs are raised in large numbers, no breed is so popular as the Southdown. There are few other sections where one breed has been adopted as the standard over such a wide territory.
PECULIARLY A MUTTON SHEEP
The Southdown is the mutton sheep par excellence. For quality and beauty it cannot be surpassed, hence it is called the "gentlemen's sheep." The membership list of the American Southdown Breeders' Association contains the names of a large number of very wealthy gentlemen who admire this breed and whose flocks are of more than ordinary excellence. They are a favorite breed of their owners of country estates, both on account of their beauty and their excellent mutton quality.
Other breeds have been tried
here, but have not been found equal to the Southdown. The
lambs weigh from 60 to 90 pounds when from three to four months old,
and are ready for the market in May, June, and July. The
often gain from 1 to 1¼
pounds each per day for short periods during
the growing season.
Southdown sheep may claim public favor by reason of several points in which their superiority can be shown. It is a well-established principle that the best results are obtained from animals that are grown to early maturity, one of the predominant characteristics of the Southdown.
They also produce a superior quality of both wool and mutton, which command a higher price per pound than that of other breeds. The wool of the Southdown is next in fineness to the Merino. A ewe's fleece should weigh from 6 to 8 pounds and a ram's from 10 to 12 pounds.
Through their early habits of having to travel long journeys in search of food on the rather bare hills of Sussex, they developed a high degree of endurance, with a strong constitution and plenty of muscle. On account of their thick, even coat of wool, they will stand exposure to storm, let it be rain or snow, better than most other breeds. In fact, they are no hot-house plants. They were brought up to endure hardships, and today many of the flock in England are exposed the year round to all the inclemencies of the weather, winter and summer, without shad or shelter.
They are prolific breeders, maturing earlier, perhaps, than any other breed. They will make a pound of flesh with as little, if not less, food than any other, and more of it on the most valuable parts of the carcass, which is where the profit comes in.
Let us consider another valuable characteristic - early maturity. It is generally admitted that the sheep giving the most profit is the one that goes to the butcher under one year old. All breeders have claims for their favorite breed, but none will dispute the quality of the Southdown. Some have said he is "rather small." Nevertheless, facts and figures are stubborn things, and the best way to arrive at correct conclusions is through comparisons. In this case I will take for comparison two other breeds - a long and a short wool. First the Leicester, because the breed was about the first to attract much attention by its being improved by Bakewell and commanding very high figures in that early day. Second, the Shropshire, being a nearer relative of the Southdown and a sheep that of late years has perhaps gain more popularity in America than any other breed. For this comparison, I have taken figures in the official catalogue of the Smithfield show the twelve heaviest lambs of each of the three breeds, and find the average weights as follows:
For the three years Shropshires
averaged 149 pounds, Leicesters 158,
and Southdowns 169. This shows that the Southdown has the
advantage in actual weight of 20 pounds per head over the Shropshire,
notwithstanding the former has been dubbed as "rather small."
The Southdown, while the smallest of the mutton breeds, is remarkable compact, and on account of its deceptive weight is called the "big little sheep." Rams in breeding condition should weigh 170 to 190 pounds and ewes from 120 to 130 pounds.
VALUABLE FOR CROSSING
The fact that Southdowns possess all the most valuable points in a mutton sheep, coupled with unquestioned purity of breeding for centuries past, makes them the most valuable for crossing on common sheep to improve the mutton quality. They have played an important part in improving all the other Down breeds, the valuable qualities of which depend largely upon how much of Southdown blood courses through their veins.
When placed in competition with other breeds on either side of the Atlantic, Southdown sheep have more than held their own. In this country the superior quality and value of Southdown mutton as compared with that of other breeds is not so well understood as it is in England, where the different mutton breeds have been so much longer known.
The records of that country establish beyond question the correctness of the claim for this breed of sheep. As authority the price list of the Smithfield Club for 1891, in which there is published a summary of champion prizes awarded and extending over a period of sixty years, is quoted.
At that show - the greatest fat stock show in existence, where all the breeds are brought out in the very pink of condition - from the year 1832 to 1861 there was offered yearly a gold medal for the best pen of wethers in the short-wooled classes; from 1861 to 1873 a silver cup was substituted for the medal, making a period of forty-two consecutive years in which a prize was offered for the best pen of wethers in the short-wooled classes. The result was that Southdowns won it forty-one times. (In 1847 it was won by Hampshires).
At the same show in the year
1869, there was added another prize. This was a champion
prize of the value of £50 for the best pen of sheep in the
show of any
age, breed, or sex. This was continued, with the exception of
year 1874, up to 1889 - a period of twenty years. The result
was that Southdowns won eleven times, Oxfords three times, Lincolns
twice, Hampshires twice, and Shropshires twice, Southdowns winning more
of these champion prizes than all the other breeds combined. And this
was done where the quality and value of the different breeds
is well understood.
In the carcass contest at the International Live Stock Exposition, since its beginning in 1900, pure-bred, grade, or cross-bred Southdowns have won sixty-three out of eighty-four possible prizes. This year they won all seven such prizes. Five out of thirteen times has the Grand Champion wether of this show been of Southdown breeding.
Fast forward to 2019...all the positives of yesteryear are still true today for what we now call the Babydoll Southdown to distinguish it from the larger American Southdown. In the United States, the Southdown was upscaled to be a bigger sheep, called the American Southdown. Around 1986, Mr. Robert Mock spent years searching for the smaller Southdowns, located some, and started a registry for them called the Olde English Babydoll Miniature Southdown Sheep Registry. It is still in existence today although owned by a different family. In the early 2000's, a second registry was started called the North American Babydoll Southdown Sheep Association and Registry. There are differences between the two registries and their breed standards. The later will not register a sheep shorter than 17" or taller than 26". If your Babydoll falls within these height restrictions, it will more than likely be in the same weight ranges listed in the article above. Thus, if you're wanting to use them as a meat breed, you would likely have the success our ancestors had as notated in the article written in 1917.
An article from Farm Show magazine - 1991, 5 years after Mr. Robert Mock began his search for the smaller Southdowns.
I keep records of my
lambs' weights. I wean my lambs at ≈ 10
weeks. Until then, they are on their dams on pasture with
very little grain given. What they do get is equal to a small
palmful per sheep every couple of days or so to keep the flock friendly
- hardly enough to consider it a source of nutrition. I do
not creep feed my lambs. In 2018, between 12 weeks and 13
weeks, my lowest weight was 39 pounds for a twin born ewe lamb and my
highest weight was 68.8 pounds for a single born ram lamb with my
average for all of my 2018 lambs during this time frame being 60.74
pounds. My adult ewes over two-years old, my
lightest is 110 pounds and my heaviest is 167 pounds. My two-years old
rams are between 150 and 164
pounds. I have owned rams weighing close to 200
pounds. These weights are on pasture fed with hay supplement
during winter only with grain given as noted above. If I were
raising for meat and feeding grain, I'm sure my sheep would weigh more.
My Babydolls have proved to be easy keepers, growing and maintaining weight on pasture. They are easy lambers, very seldom requiring any intervention on my part, the majority of my ewes birthing twins even as first-time moms. They are terrific mothers. I rarely have to deworm them and I don't have foot issues. They provide superb wool - highly prized in years past - despite their short-stapled, medium wool class. I've been processing it since I started raising and breeding the Babydolls and have made many items with it over the years. It has yet to fail me in doing what I'm asking it to do. Here are some examples of items I've made and sold and I find it is gaining popularity.
I often read folks referring to them as a novelty breed. When I read this, I take it to mean a new breed that is going to fall out of popularity quickly. It was in the 1960's when the larger New Zealand Southdowns were imported to upscale the smaller Southdown. Novelty, I think not. The "Babydolls" have been around for hundreds of years, just not called Babydolls. There wasn't many of them to be seen until the last quarter century; and, even more so with the rise of social media. This leads folks to believe they are new. Only the name is new.
Diane Spisak, one of the founders of the NABSSAR, showing American Southdowns in 1960. Notice the size of them? This was before the Southdowns were upscaled to become known as the American Southdown seen today. They look like Babydolls, don't they?
Photo ©Diane Spisak & used with Diane's permission.
Photo from 2017. A Babydoll Southdown on the left and an American Southdown on the right.
Photo used with Kimberly's permission.
Marylou Ferguson Anderson's family. This was the Champion FFA Southdown Flock in 1962 at the Wyoming State Fair. Again, was before the Southdowns were upscaled to become known as the American Southdown seen today. They look like Babydolls, don't they?
Photo © Floyd Cashman & used with Marylou's permission.
Their smile is
contagious! If you're having a bad day, get outside and spend
a few minutes watching and interacting with your Babydolls. Your mood
can't help but improve. If you don't have them yet,
our website, visit our facebook page,
and make a reservation
In closing, I'm glad you found us. You'll be glad you did!
Department of Agriculture
Twenty-Fifth Annual Report of the Department of Agriculture
For the Year Ending September 30, 1917
Transmitted to the Legislature January 15, 1918
J.B. Lyon Company, Printers