It was love at first sight when Jackie Hegel discovered the miniature Olde English Babydoll Southdown sheep. “They are noted for their gentle nature and their cute teddy bear faces,” she says.
Jackie and her husband Keith moved out to their farm west of Saskatoon in 2009 and began looking for that perfect hobby farm animal. Both have full-time jobs in the city and were after something small and easy to handle.
“I grew up on a farm near Landis. We always had chickens, a cow and once in a while, a pig or two, and I missed that,” she says.
After some research Hegel came across the Babydoll Southdown sheep and purchased a three-year-old ram and a young ram lamb from a producer near Lumsden, north of Regina. “I then bought my first ewe from Alberta, another from B.C. and later, a third from the lady at Lumsden. I now have a total of seven registered sheep and if all goes well I’ll have at least five baby lambs arrive this spring.”
Keith expanded the pasture area and built a five-foot fence with an electric line about 18 inches off the ground and 12 inches away from the fence. As their property has a lot of bush, coyotes could be a problem. The couple has also added a barn and a hay shelter.
The breed originated in the South Down Hills of Sussex, England. It enjoyed popularity for many years but by the end of the Second World War consumers wanted larger meat cuts.
The sheep reached the U.S. in 1803 but couldn’t compete with the larger breeds, and may have become extinct had it not been for Robert Mock. In 1986, he began to search for the original miniature Southdown sheep, and it was through his efforts that a registry was created which would ensure bloodlines would be kept pure. Interest in the breed has grown in recent years, and today there are about 33 breeders in Canada.
Babydoll Southdown sheep are extremely hardy and not prone to problems such as foot rot. They stand about 24 inches and under at the shoulder, and the ewes can have twins or triplets occasionally, and rarely have any birthing problems.
They require the same basic care as other sheep in terms of feed, shelter, vaccinations, deworming, shearing and hoof trimming. “We deworm every spring and fall, make sure they have access to salt and a mineral block, and also give them vitamins A, D, and E supplements,” Hegel said.
The wool produced by these sheep is highly valued — being similar to cashmere — and is easy to spin, and the meat is tender with excellent flavour.
Babydoll Southdowns make excellent “lawn mowers” for orchard owners as they are not tall enough to reach the fruit and don’t damage trunks, and Hegel has sold two wethers (castrated males) to a local auto body shop to keep the grass trimmed around the vehicles.
Hegel says these miniature sheep are becoming more popular here in Canada, and are a favourite for petting zoos and are excellent for 4-H projects because they’re so easy to handle and have a pleasant personality.
“Eventually when I retire, I’d like to raise Babydoll sheep full time,” she says.