Our breeders put their heads together to make a list of questions about Babydoll Sheep that are often asked...
Q. Do Babydoll sheep need shearing?
A. Yes, they need shearing once a year.
Q. What do you use the wool for?
A. The fleece can be sold to the wool store. Prices for broader, short staple wool have recently collapsed so the commercial return for Babydoll fleece is relatively poor. The springy Babydoll fleece makes good stuffing for cushions, doonas and similar items. If all else fails, it makes good mulch in the garden. There is more information about wool for BSBA members in the Breeders blog.
Q. What do you feed Babydoll Sheep?
A. Babydoll Sheep do well on pasture like all breeds of sheep. They are efficient feeders and generally do not need supplementary feeding except when there is insufficient grass (eg drought) or in late pregnancy and early lactation. Supplementary feed could be hay, grain or sheep pellets. Any new feed should be introduced slowly. Refer to information from your State agriculture department about suitable feeds for sheep and calculating rations.
Q. What lick blocks do my sheep need?
A. General information from state agricultural departments suggests ensuring that your sheep are getting adequate levels of energy and protein before worrying about minerals and vitamins. A loose lick of equal parts of agricultural lime, coarse salt and Causemag is relatively inexpensive, easy to make and commonly recommended for use with sheep by these departments and other research bodies such as Australian Wool Innovation.
Q. Should I get ewes, rams or wethers?
A. This depends on your goals. See Buying Babydoll Sheep - Choices. To state the obvious, if you don't want to breed sheep then don't get a ram.
Q. Do Babydoll Sheep make good pets?
A. Generally Babydoll Sheep are fairly docile and easy to tame and train. Typical behaviours that can be learned are running up to greet people, following a bucket around the farm and accepting chin scratches and patting. Small amounts of hay and pellets are a powerful incentive! Ewes and wethers are the best option if you want Babydoll pets. Some rams that are encouraged to get overly familiar can become dangerous when they reach maturity. Even though they are short, Babydoll sheep can weigh up to 90kg.
Q. What fences do I need?
A. Babydoll Sheep are generally fairly easy on fences. A well strained hinge-joint wire fence is generally adequate. They can also be trained to use electric fences.
Q. Is there a look/type of Babydoll that everyone is aiming for? Like they do in dog breeding?
A. The Babydoll breed is still being developed in Australia and there are many opinions about what they should look like. There are various breed societies each with their own breed standard. Even working to a breed standard, individual studs will tend to develop a look or type depending on their breeding goals.
The BSBA Babydoll breed standard includes white, coloured, patterned and spotted sheep based on the Southdown breed. Our vision describes how we are planning to get there. Members also have access to our Babydoll Score assessment tool which is a visual guide to the various aspects of the breed standard.
Q. Are there any genetic faults in the breed?
A. There are genetic faults in all breeds. Some Babydoll bloodlines in Australia have come from small flocks that have been closed to new genetics for many years. In these situations inbreeding becomes an issue and genetic faults typically become more common. Issues that may be seen in Australian Babydolls are poor fertility, casting in late pregnancy, frequent lambing difficulties (related to combination of wide head, short neck and heavy shoulders), lambs born small and lacking vigour, twisted feet (typically an indicator of overall poor body structure), undescended testicles and very short, poor quality fleece. What a list! There is a lot of work to be done to breed small, handy sheep that do not have these problems.
Another recessive genetic disorder to be aware of for Babydolls is Gaucher Disease. This is a genetic condition, not a disease and found in humans, dogs, mice and sheep including some Southdowns. There is a simple DNA test available that lets you check if your sheep are carriers. This is relevant to Babydolls since they are a type of Southdown.
The good news is that in recent decades the Southdown breeders have been working on all of these things and now there are plenty of better small Southdown genetics to work with to develop a Babydoll breed that suits the needs of small farms, vineyards and orchards.