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Why Barbados Blackbelly Sheep? Letter from the farm.
When we unexpectedly found ourselves with a small farm, we did some soul searching to determine how best to use our resources. Having always been fascinated with sheep, I began searching for the right breed to share our space with. My studying led me to the ALBC, now Livestock Conservancy where there were a number of sheep breeds listed as Critical here in the US. Barbados Blackbelly were among the few listed at the time. There was not a lot of information available, but I found a wealth of information on BlackbellySheep.org which I read through as if I was studying for an exam. And knowing that we would be part of the conservation effort, made it all worthwhile.
It was not easy finding a flock of such a rare breed, but as luck would have it, we found a trio of young ewes, Abby, Amy and April and a young, handsome ram lamb, Little Bit More, not so far away. After losing our Little Bit to a ‘head-butting game gone wrong', we were fortunate enough to find another ram, Brigadier General, and two lovely and friendly ewes, Avon and Odessa. Later on, our friend who sold us the original four decided to focus on Dexter Cattle and offered the rest of her flock to us, so late December of 2013, we brought home Nemesis, Anna, Annabelle, Penny, Bunny and Bella. ALL of the girls then had lambs…so we had quite the flock all at once!
We could not be happier with our decision. It was an easy choice; the animals are just lovely. Their exotic look is closer to a deer or antelope than the typical ‘sheep’. They are alert, highly intelligent and an absolute pleasure to have on the farm.
What Makes Barbados Blackbelly Special?
Prolific Breeders - Ewes are fertile at 6 months. Optimally, ewes are not bred until 6 months old and will lamb at 13 months. Some may twin in their first lambing; a good ewe will twin 4 out of 5 lambings and triplets are common. Being non-seasonal breeders, a ewe can lamb every 6 months, but most will lamb every 8 months. Rams can breed as early as 4 months old.
Excellent Mothers - Blackbelly lambs are small; singles as much as 8 lbs, twins generally 4-5 lbs. Ewes rarely require assistance with lambing and quickly bond with their lambs, isolating them from the flock on their own and finding shelter from the elements. Lambs are normally up and walking within the hour.
Easy to Maintain - Being hair sheep, there is no shearing required. Even though they will grow a long winter coat, they quickly shed out during the spring, losing the wooly undercoat first, then the longer guard hair afterward. The sheep adapt to the cold northern climates equally as well as to the tropical, warm climate of their origin.
Versatile Eaters - Barbados Blackbellies do well on most types of feed. Having been developed to thrive on poorer forage available in the islands, they require less feed than the larger wool breeds. Many breeders feed only alfalfa hay with no grain at all. Where there is poorer quality hay, they are often offered supplemental feed, taking care to monitor copper content as copper is toxic to sheep and can kill them. It is recommended to offer a mineral supplement appropriate for your area.
Hardy - Blackbelly Sheep have a reputation for being much more disease and parasite resistant than wool breeds. Proper pasture maintenance and rotation is key in minimizing parasite problems. There is no known cases of scrapie in Barbados Blackbelly sheep.
Mild Flavored Meat - Unlike wool breeds of lamb, Blackbelly meet is mild-flavored and very lean, more akin to Venison. It is low in fat and cholesterol but high in protein making it a healthy choice. Flavor-wise, it is unsurpassed by other red meats; one might call it the 'Kobe' of lamb.
The original four relaxing after the ride to their new home. From the left - Little Bit More, Amy, Abby and April.