15 Years and 7832 Babydolls Later and
By Robert Mock
(Originally published 2006)
September 2006 celebrates the 15th Anniversary of the Babydoll Sheep
Registry. I have felt the urge to
reminisce and to look forward to the future of the little sheep that changed my
life and the lives of so many others.
In 1986, I became fascinated by miniature livestock.
Sheep were the only domestic breed of livestock that at that time did not
have a miniature counterpart known in the general livestock population.
Months of research later, it narrowed down to the original Southdown
breed, if there were any genetically pure left in the country and if they could
be found. “If” was the big
word. Imported into this country in
about 1803, they had fast become the premium meat sheep, as well as producers of
a fine grade of wool. I actually
saw my first little Southdown 70 years ago, although at the time I did not know
what it was. I was sitting in my
mother’s lap looking out the window watching a raging blizzard when suddenly
appeared this little sheep trying to jump through the snow drifts. My father went out and picked her up and put her in the barn.
She lived in the barn till spring, wild as a deer.
When spring came, and the bands of sheep came through from southern
Washington to the summer feeding grounds, she rejoined them.
Each year, bands of several hundred sheep passed by on the road in front
of our farm and spent the night bedded down in a pasture on our property.
The group was always accompanied by a cook wagon pulled by two mules.
They built a campfire, and my mother baked for them and took them fresh
eggs and milk, and us boys spent a delightful evening visiting with the herders.
It was one of those memories that fade as you grow older, but it suddenly
came back when I saw the first little flock of babydolls in 1988.
Could that have been a prophesy?
Searching the country for them was very time consuming, expensive, and at times
filled with drama. Advertisements were run in farm papers across the country,
and I talked to sheep superintendents at fairs in every state as well as county
agents and veterinarians. The first
three small flocks were located within a 100 mile radius of where we lived.
The first were weeders in a five acre blueberry field.
The field looked like a park—the grass looked mowed, and every bush was
free of the lower leaves. The owner
had owned them for 30 years and was retiring.
The second flock was in Eastern Washington, and I found them in response
to an advertisement in a newspaper. I
called, and the man selling them had purchased them from an elderly lady who had
passed away. He was anxious to sell
them because they were so small that they walked under his fences, and he did
not want to re-fence. As I
remember, there were eight in that group. The
third small flock came from a lady in the southern part of the state who could
no longer physically care for them. She
had owned her flock for 40 years. There
were 14 in that group. They were
extremely thin as she had not been able to buy feed for them.
I lost two, but saved the others.
The rest of the sheep were located from Midwest to east within the country.
All older folks who had owned them for years.
At one farm, I called an hour after they had been loaded on a truck and
sent to auction. They were able to
call the auction and have them returned with my promise that I would pay the
bills and their feed. At that time,
they were selling for $25 or less per head, and no one could afford to keep
As other flocks were located, the owners were convinced to keep them with the
promise that a registry would be formed for them; a separate identity would be
given to them (the name Babydoll); and a market niche formed for them.
In September 1991, the Registry was put
together with Jacque Rogers in Oregon and myself.
It was a simple system in the beginning. The rules for acceptance into the registry were set.
All sheep must be two years of age or older, measured by a veterinarian,
be 24” or less—front leg from the ground to top of shoulder without
measuring the wool, and meet the standard of the original Southdowns being shown
at the international livestock shows in the early 1950s.
Three of us viewed the photos of each sheep submitted.
We were on our way, and the original 287 head of sheep were registered
during the first year of the registry.
By 1995, 983 sheep had been registered and 26 separate bloodlines were
established. In May of 1995, the
Registry was brought home. Jacque could no longer manage it. My daughter Vicki and I spent four months redoing the
Registry. Not an easy task.
It had to be all on one sheet. A
three-copy carbonless form, one copy to the breeder, one copy for the
breeder’s file to be transferred to each succeeding owner’s file, and one
copy to be a numerical record of every sheep registered for the stud book.
This system would provide a numerical trail of each sheep from birth to
death, from owner to owner. The
system would also immediately detect fraudulent attempts to register lambs or
transfers and would set the Registry on solid rock so it could never be
destroyed. It could not be
maintained with elective officers, where
records were shipped from one registrar to the next, and with each new set of
officers changing the policies or playing a game of politics.
The market niche had to be found, promoted, and paid for.
Obviously, there was so little income in the first five years that I
spent $15,000 of my own funds to continue the Registry.
To bring the sheep back, production could not exceed demand, so embryo
transplants were not permitted. I
remember one person in Missouri who in the second year purchased 200 head of
grade sheep and planned to do embryo transplants.
If it had been permitted, it would have brought the market down to
nothing. If they suddenly become
cyclic, and it is a breeders’ market, prices are sky high, and then one day
you wake up and it is over. This is
not what I wanted for the little sheep. Fortunately,
we were able to prevent that from happening.
The Registry was closed at the end of 1992.
Without the Registry ration and its guarantee that “what you paid for
was what you would get,” the sheep did not have a value.
There was no other source. It
was limited to what was here in the Registry.
In cases of disputes, the Registry was the arbitrator, and its decision
final. The Registry built a reputation of absolute honesty and trust
between the Registry and the breeder and the buyer.
The first published article on the
babydolls appeared in Rare Breeds Journal in 1991, with regular news about them
appearing in each issue since 1992. With
Maureen’s encouragement and guidance, I continued writing, and the newsletter
has been published in every issue since with the exception of one in 1999 when I
had a stroke.
In 1999, another goal of the restoration project was completed.
The little Southdowns were returned to their homeland, the Sussex Downs
in England, where they had been extinct for 50 years.
They were exported from breeders in Canada, and we all celebrated the
first lambs born in 50 years on the Downs.
Continued growth and stable prices are the future.
The stable demand and prices continue.
The little sheep are still the highest priced sheep and most in demand of
any breed. The demand for babydoll
wool increases each year. The wool
is short stapled, but a micron count of 19 to 22 puts it in the class of
cashmere. The wool has more barbs
per inch than any other wool and is perfect for blending with other fine wools
and for felting. Many hand spinners
keep a flock of wethers for wool production.