PHOTO: Rachael Brugger
Heidi Strawn
February 4, 2011

Use: The American Southdown Breeder’s Association hails this fast-growing breed as an efficient and economical converter of grass to lean, tender and flavorful meat. These sheep make popular exhibition livestock and good 4-H/FFA projects for young people due to their mellow temperaments. They also make valuable additions to cross-breeding programs.

History: A true British native, the Southdown breed hails from the Downs, or hills, of Sussex, England, where it has probably lived for centuries. The breed – thought to be one of the oldest purebred sheep in the world — was further developed during the late 1700s and early 1800s. These sheep may have accompanied English colonists to the New World as early as 1640, and later importations occurred from 1824 to 1829. During the 1960s, imported New Zealand Southdown stock boosted the breed’s size here in the U.S. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy lists the breed as recovering; that is, the global population exceeds 10,000 animals, but they feel the breed still needs monitoring.

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Conformation: The well-balanced Southdown has a compact, muscular appearance and moderate size, with rams weighing around 190 to 230 pounds and ewes weighing about 130 to 180 pounds. The breed displays a high, proud head carriage that gives it an alert look, and medium-sized ears. The muzzle hair ranges from gray to brown (no white) and a moderate amount of wool surrounds the face. Southdowns have pink skin and a dense, uniform fleece that covers the whole body and extends down the legs. No black spotting of the wool is allowed. The medium-type fiber has a short staple length ranging from 1.4 to 2.5 inches and a fleece weight range of from five to eight pounds.

Special Considerations/Notes: Southdowns mature early and the ewes are good lambers and mothers. These easy-to-manage, polled (hornless) sheep adapt well to wet climates and hilly terrain—not surprising, given their roots in the Downs of Sussex.

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