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American Blackbelly sheep: top 10 reasons why these unique sheep could be the breed for you!

The first time I saw a picture of an American Blackbelly sheep, I'm sure my heart skipped a beat. Within a month, we added six percentage American Blackbelly ewe lambs to our predominantly Katahdin flock and enjoyed them so much that, the following summer, we brought our first registered American Blackbelly lambs home to start our current registered flock. There are many more than 10 reasons why these sheep are amazing; these are my top 10:

Beauty. It's hard to beat the stately beauty of American Blackbelly sheep. These sheep always look proud and alert. Their brown and black markings look sharp and distinct at any time of year. Rams have impressive horns that rival those of wild sheep, and even though we've found that the rams will use their horns to protect themselves, ours haven't used their horns aggressively.

Shearing not required. American Blackbelly sheep are hair sheep. Their winter coat is a wool undercoat that sheds along with hair fibers in the spring (or summer, depending on your climate) much as a dog sheds its thick winter coat. This is in contrast to wool sheep that are sheared annually. American Blackbelly sheep can save time and money without shearing costs. Their hair looks great year round; it seems to repel dirt (they just never get dirty), and our experience has been that ticks are not attracted to them.

Tail docking not required. Another time and money saving feature of these sheep is that the tail docking that is customary with most wool sheep breeds is not necessary. American Blackbelly sheep all have tails. Their tails are narrow and fairly short with short hair that prevents the tails from getting soiled (even during lambing). We think it's more comfortable for the sheep to have tails for protection from hot summer sun and cold winter winds, and they can twitch their tails to send flies on their way.

Smaller size. American Blackbelly sheep tend to be smaller and grow slower than many of the sheep breeds that have been bred for rapid market weight and size. This is not a disadvantage, though. It means they eat less feed, make less mess, and take up less space than larger breeds of sheep. The slower growth makes for healthy sheep that develop and mature at a natural rate.

Non-selective grazers. While all sheep need good feed, American Blackbelly sheep are not as fussy as some about what they eat. They are happiest with a variety of food choices and make their own selections wisely. They don't necessarily need lush pasture, enjoying wooded areas with a mixture of grasses, trees, and brush. They also thrive in climates where hay must be fed for half of the year due to snow coverage.

Adaptable. We live in an area with extremely cold winter temperatures for extended periods of time and we can also have very hot, dry spells during the summer with dampness in spring and fall. The American Blackbelly sheep easily adapt to these changes and extremes. They're happiest outside surrounded by wide open spaces where they can see the horizon and the sky. They appreciate having a shelter, but will often prefer to be outside even in winter conditions.

Healthy. American Blackbelly sheep are hardy, even though they're structurally finer boned than our other breeds of "hair" sheep. It's rare for them to have hoof problems. They require less de-worming than other breeds, and some breeders are able to skip de-worming altogether. For us, they respond well to herbal treatments. They bring health to a crossbreeding plan. Newborns hit the ground running--they practically bounce up and keep on bouncing.

Intelligent. We have three breeds of hair sheep and love them all, but the American Blackbelly sheep seem to be amazingly intelligent. They figure things out quickly and often instinctively. This can be challenging because their reactions are lightning fast and they may seem flighty at times, but afterwards we can always see exactly why they chose a particular action. They are happiest in a group with other American Blackbelly sheep. They don't like to be alone, even less so than other sheep breeds we've had. They are generally not cuddly sheep and can even seem aloof or unfriendly, but they know when they need human assistance and are very grateful for help if they've hurt themselves or need something they can't do for themselves. If fed grain regularly or have frequent human contact, they become very friendly once they understand they are safe.

Protective. I fully believe our American Blackbelly sheep will be the ones that save our whole herd at some point. They move the herd to safety if predators are around, being constantly alert and reacting quickly to anything that doesn't belong. If a strange dog, cat, or other animal is present, they instantly spring into action by stomping, jumping, and running to safety (in our case, up to the house and barn area or to our llama if they're in a fenced area away from the barn). The other breeds of sheep will be startled and run after them. American Blackbelly sheep won't go near people they don't know. Lambs stay very close to their mothers and always on the opposite side of them from strangers or threats.

Easy lambing/great moms. American Blackbelly ewes lamb with ease. So far, we have never had to assist with a delivery as we have with our other breeds. They take excellent care of their newborns. When the lambs are outside with their mothers, they tend to stay closer to them than lambs of other breeds and the American Blackbelly mothers always know where their lambs are. They're very family oriented, often babysitting the lambs of other ewes and letting other lambs climb on their backs. Something specific to the American Blackbelly sheep that we've noticed in our flock is that they share. Ewes with triplets will make sure every lamb has a chance to drink milk and the lambs themselves will take turns at the udder. This behavior carries on into adulthood where no one specific sheep monopolizes the hay manger to the exclusion of others.

If you're looking for intelligent, healthy sheep that are beautiful and relatively easy to care for, American Blackbelly sheep could just be for you. I have a lot of respect for these sheep; they seem a lot like deer to me and are endlessly fascinating to watch and to work with.

To find a breeder near you, check out the Breeder Directory on the Barbados Blackbelly Sheep Association International (BBSAI) website www. We are very fortunate to have the BBSAI. Its directors are professional, helpful and efficient. They will help in any way they can. The association is growing with the breed and is an excellent source of information on history, breed standards, and everything else there is to know about American Blackbelly sheep.
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Title Annotation:Countryside
Author:Anderlini, Jane
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2014
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