We have spent our lives caring for animals. Growing up we both loved caring for all animals, and right out of high school we both became involved in the thoroughbred horse industry. Claire, as a veterinary technician, and I as a farm manager, began to become more deeply involved in animal husbandry. Claire was travelling from Florida to New York caring for multi-million dollar horses while I began a small breeding program of Haflingers at my Uncles farm in Idaho. We both took a hiatus from our respective lives with regards to animal care, but always knew we would return to it. Having visited several New Zealand sheep farms in my youth, I was determined to start my own sheep "ranch." After meeting Claire who had always had dreams of working on a sheep ranch, we made the perfect match to become babydoll parents.
We began to make the dream come true last year. For years, to pay the bills, we have been growing 40 varieties of the best gourmet garlic seed. The Babydolls were a beautiful fit for our little ranch. We thought they would be great for weed control and fertilizing our garlic fields as part of our pasture rotation plan. Now, we are quickly finding that out to be true. We love waking up every morning to see their smiling faces, getting to know all of their personalities, and in the spring; we look forward to our second lambing season!
With their sweet teddy bear faces and wooly charm, babydoll sheep attract people looking for gentle pets or adorable lawnmowers. Officially known as babydoll Southdown sheep, members of this ancient breed are the diminutive version of the Southdown breed of sheep, which originated in the South "Downs" of Sussex County, England. There, they were known for their hardiness, fine fleece and their tender meat. The breed made its way to the United States around 1803, according to the Olde English Babydoll Southdown Sheep Registry.
People often choose to keep babydoll sheep because of their gentle, yet distinctive personalities. They are very gentle and they aren’t real big so they're easy to manage. Babydoll sheep are most often white, but can also be black. Babydoll sheep are most often white, but can also be black, which is a recessive gene. As they are out in the sun a lot, the wool on black sheep lightens and can look brown. As they age, their coats can turn a kind of grayish-brown. Their fleece, which is sheared each spring, is springy and soft. In textile terms, it runs in the 19 to 22 micron range, which means it's similar to cashmere and can be worn next to the skin without being itchy and uncomfortable.
Babydolls are only about 18 to 24 inches tall when they're fully grown. Because of their small size, they're easy to handle and popular for 4-H projects. They can be easily contained with small, low fences. The larger danger isn't that these lovely creatures will escape; it's that predators can get to them. Both babydoll ewes and rams are naturally polled, meaning they're born without horns. They are non-aggressive by nature and can be wary in new situations. Breeders say the sheep are curious and trusting with the people they know and are especially fond of routine.
Babydolls are easy keepers and don't need much acreage. They're not hard on the land. The only thing they do is eat the grass. You need a shelter where they can cool off in the summer and get out of the rain. But in general they like to be outdoors because they always have that wool sweater on. They just don't like to get wet. Babydoll sheep are popular as "organic weeders." They are often used in vineyards as well as orchards because they don't hurt the fruit, tree trunks or shrubs and they fertilize the soil while they graze. Babydoll ewes are good mothers, according to breeders, and often have twins and occasionally even triplets. They like to stay together and don't typically wander off and get lost. Another special thing about these sheep is they have a strong flocking instinct. They tend to stick together. Every night they come back to the paddock and spend the night. They have this instinctive thing to come back home every night.
Care of Sheep
The following are some typical requirements for successful sheep raising (from the North American Babydoll Sheep Association and Registry--known as NABSSAR):
A 3-sided shelter to protect sheep and lambs from rain, sleet, snow, or wind. About an acre of good, improved grass pasture per 5 ewes and their lambs, and good predator-proof fencing; possibly a Livestock Guardian Dog, or guard donkey or guard Llama. We are diligent about putting them in their predator proof "sheep condo" before dusk and letting them out after dawn. One or more good general sheep husbandry books such as Storey's Guide to Sheep Raising and Laura Lawson's Lambing Problems and Managing Your Ewe.
The dedication to get outside twice a day to check on the sheep and to feed and water as necessary. A place for storage of hay and grain; Hoof trimmers, hand shears, halters, buckets, and a sheep-specific, loose salt mineral supplement. Periodic hoof trimming, deworming. We use diatomaceous earth mixed in their mineral to worm them naturally as well as their grazing in former garlic fields helps as well. Shearing and yearly vaccinations are standard care. If you take the time to regularly handle your sheep they will easily tame down, walk on leashes, and enjoy socializing with people.
A few additional notes I have are these: (this is taken from my little sheep website, its good info)
Clean, fresh water should always be available. The loose salt mineral supplement should be specifically for sheep. That means it will not contain copper which is toxic to sheep. If you keep other animals with your sheep, it is important that you keep their mineral supplement unavailable to the sheep. Also, grain can contain higher levels of copper, so check any grain your sheep may have access to. To give a rough idea of frequency: Shearing: 1 time a year; Hoofs inspected/trimmed: 3 times a year; Wormed: approx. 3 times/year based on your conditions; (once again we use diatomaceous earth to accomplish this) CD&T shot: yearly in adults. Consulting your veterinarian is always a good idea to determine what is appropriate for your area and your conditions. If you ever see green colored flies on or near your sheep--especially many of them bothering an individual, check for fly strike! This is a good reason to make sure your sheep are sheared early in the spring. Catron IV or any other "screw worm" spray is effective for fly strike that hasn't progressed too far, but you'll probably have to respray several times before totally eliminating the problem. UltraBoss is a product that can be used preventatively for many external parasites. Pregnant ewes should not be wormed with Valbazen. Never feed old or moldy hay.
Babydolls are easy-keepers and require only grass or good quality hay and a sheep salt mineral for maintenance. We hand-feed grain as a little treat occasionally, but they do not get grain regularly other than during the last few weeks of pregnancy and during lactation. Since they are a flock animal, they should always be kept with at least one other sheep at all times. If you use a 3-sided shed, note which direction your prevailing winds come from. You will want your sheep to have both cover and shelter from the winds during the cold months. During the hot months, they will seek shade where the breeze is (perhaps behind the shelter instead of in it), or will find shade from a tree. So position the shelter with winter in mind if you live in a colder climate.
- Ben and Claire Ronniger