What is the difference?
This seemingly simple question is tricky...
It short, in Australia a Babydoll sheep is a smaller type of Southdown with a woolly head. We are adding coloured wool, patterns and spots as well.
The first Southdown flocks were recorded along with a Southdown breed standard in The Southdown Sheep Flock Book Volume 1 published in Britain in 1892. Reprints of this are available for sale online. The drawings and photos of sheep in this flock book are an indication of what the 'original' Southdowns were like. Like most British breeds, they were shorter and stockier than the same breeds today, which have been bred to be bigger, leaner and longer in the last few decades.
Up until 2020, all sheep in Australia called Babydolls could only be registered as Southdown and were white. Since then, several Babydoll registries have been set up by various groups based on a range of criteria and assumptions. All are based on Southdown genetics and some allow for coloured and patterned Babydolls.
In North America, a Babydoll sheep is a separate breed established around 1990 loosely based on Southdowns imported from Britain in the 19th Century. They are relatively short (but not miniature), have woolly heads and may be white, black and sometimes spotted. These sheep often have much fluffier faces, shorter muzzles and perhaps not so much of a Downs style wool as the smaller Southdown type still found in Britain. Photos on social media often feature lambs up to one year old which leads to the impression that the adults have the same size and 'teddy bear' look. There are no North American Babydoll sheep genetics in Australia.
Babydoll Sheep Breeders Australia (BSBA) has developed a Babydoll breed standard to describe the type of sheep that we are aiming for as we create a Babydoll breed for Australia based on the Southdown and adding the option of colour. We also have a Babydoll Score Tool that our members can use to assess how Babydoll looking a sheep is.
Another consideration is the % of Southdown genetics known to be in the pedigree. A sheep needs at least 93.75% Southdown genetics to be considered for purebred Babydoll status in the BSBA Babydoll registry. Sheep with a lower percentage of Southdown genetics are still valuable in developing the Babydoll breed and can be registered as Emerging Babydolls.
Weirdly, in Australia, some breeders trying to explain the difference between Babydolls and Southdowns compare photos of small Babydoll-type purebred Southdowns in full wool with recently shorn, larger purebred Southdowns. Not surprisingly, the shorn sheep look like they have longer legs, a longer neck, longer ears and a non woolly head. These mistakenly get pointed out as Babydoll breed faults. When you shear a well bred Babydoll sheep with 100% Southdown genetics it looks like a small version of the larger Southdowns.
Some Babydoll breeders prefer a heavy shouldered, short bodied, thick and short necked type of Southdown similar to those bred in Australia in the 1950s-70s. This is entirely their choice but is not the only way a Southdown sheep can be small enough to meet the Babydoll breed standard - have a look at photos of shorn Babydolls from North America for other options for body shape. Old-time Southdown breeders will tell you that this body type was associated with some serious problems at lambing time that led to the Southdown breed almost disappearing from Australia. We are lucky that it is not the only option for Babydolls.