The Southdown sheep is a rare sheep breed known for its sweet meat. Developed in Sussex, England, in the late 1700 and early 1800s, the flock of John Ellman was one of the first to move into Pennsylvania from 1824 to 1829.
Many consider importers Jonas Webb and John Ellman to be this breed’s standardizer. Early imports into Pennsylvania, New York, and Illinois, quickly helped show the Southdown’s suitability for farm flock production.
As a mid-sized sheep breed with mouse-brown to gray faces and lower legs, the main advantages of Southdown’s are that they are polled (without horns) and have an impressive lambing ability.
This article takes a look at their major pros and cons.
Southdown Sheep Pros
The American Sheep Industry Association (ASIA) recognizes about 47 different sheep breeds in the US. However, there are more. It is believed that there are more sheep breeds than breeds of any other livestock. These sheep breeds are classified into several categories:
- Fine wool
- Long wool
- Dual purpose
- Minor breeds
The various breeds out there fall into one or more of these categories. The main category the Southdown sheep breed belongs to is meat production.
The Southdown are excellent meat producers, producing fine quality meat for various purposes. The smooth, rich quality of their mutton is strong in flavor and tenderness.
Due to being pasture-raised and grass-fed, Southdowns are also used as meat in premium pet food production, healthy for both animals and humans.
Easy to Handle
One of the core benefits of owning or raising Southdowns is that they are easy to handle. Their calm nature and small size contribute to this.
Southdowns are happy enough in fields, provided they have enough green grass to feed on. Unlike other sheep breeds, they make little to no escape attempts.
Thanks to their size, you can also raise more sheep in limited space. Southdowns are also very good at reproducing, and mature pretty early.
Other than this, this sheep breed is friendly. Southdowns do well with other sheep and farm animals.
Despite being raised mainly for meat, the Southdown sheep is an average wool producer. Even though the staple length of their fleece is not long, you can still obtain a fair amount of yarn.
Southdowns typically produce fine to medium wool with a staple length of 4cm to 6cm. The average fleece weighs 3 to 5 pounds with a fiber diameter of 23 to 29 microns. The wool from this breed is classed as downs wool.
Another reason many farmers choose to raise Southdowns is their high adaptability. They can adapt to varied and wet climates and can be bred almost anywhere in the world.
Southdowns are famous for their long lifespans. Their average life expectancy runs between 10 to 16 years.
Despite being an early maturity breed, they also live longer than many other sheep breeds.
Southdown ewes lamb and make excellent mothers all through their lifespan.
Southdown Sheep Cons
Like other sheep breeds, the Southdown sheep also has some downsides.
Prone to Being Overweight
Southdown sheep are weighty despite being small-sized. At mature body weight, rams weigh 180 to 230 pounds, while ewes weigh 120 to 180 pounds.
Prone to being overweight, Southdown’s frequent eating habits may impact their mobility and yield if things get out of control.
Southdown ewes tend to gain weight faster than rams. An overweight ewe becomes less fertile and encounters challenges while lambing.
Vigilance is required to keep them in shape and fit for reproduction.
Susceptible to Flystrike and Predator Attacks
Southdown’s are very active and susceptible to the flystrike (a painful condition of flies laying eggs on the animal). Their small body structure makes it easier for flies to land, and maggots to hatch.
This breed, due to size and being polled, also makes them vulnerable to attacks by predators.
To avoid damage to your sheep, you’ll need to ensure they are well-protected and monitored.
Regular vet check-ups and a sizeable fence are necessary when keeping Southdowns.
Not Easy to Shear
Southdown sheep are not easy to shear due to additional layers of hair on their head and legs.
Shearing is required however to prevent flystrike and other health issues.
You’d probably have an easier time shearing with other sheep breeds.