Southdown are the breed in which all others in the “Down Family” can cite in their back round. A relatively smaller sheep in comparison to some, it is a duel breed known today for mostly meat. There are technically 3 different types of Southdowns: American, Babydoll, and Miniature.
American Southdown are larger than their English forefathers, known for their lean tender meat, not for their fiber; the wool is most often sold in a wool pool. In contrast, the Babydoll Southdown developed so as to best match the breed originally imported to America, are known more for their fiber. Miniature Southdown are less than 24 inches tall at the withers. Developed in 1990’s when breeders were attempting to miniaturize all livestock. Size, fleece and conformation are the primary concerns of Mini-southdown. Often the terms for Babydoll and Miniature are interchanged, so be sure and ask for paperwork if you’re interested in owning the heritage breed.
Babydoll Southdown are often used in California and New Zealand vineyards and orchards to graze weeds, because as the name implies, they’re too short to eat the grapes on the vine, or fruit from the trees.
While being a duel breed, Southdown are not known for their fiber. Often the fiber is sold in wool pools, but it can be an interesting hand spinning experience.
Southdown is a soft fiber with a micron count of 23-29 and as low as 19 on some Babydoll flocks. However is generally known as a medium grade fleece with a blocky rectangular staple. White is the most common color however colors are often seen in the Babydoll flocks.
Visually the fiber is chalky and lacking luster; however, it dyes well and produces colors that are not flat. The fiber itself has lots of crimp and elasticity, allowing for springy yarn when spun. While it is able to felt, Southdown does not wet felt dense staying very spongy, and is not the best choice for beginner felted projects. It is a “short wool” with a staple length of 1.5 inched to a maximum of 4, however most fleeces are 2-3 inches.
More often than not you’ll see Southdown in a blend labeled “down yarn” or “down blend batts” The fleece’s crimp allows for the creation of some hard wearing items such as socks, mittens, slippers, and jackets.