Mini sheep an 'eco-mower' on orchards and vineyards - Fruit & Vine

Rare miniature sheep an ‘eco-mower’ for orchards and vineyards

There are less than 200 ‘Babydoll’ sheep in the UK but their miniature size makes them ideal mowers for orchards and vineyards as they are too small to reach the fruit.

babydoll sheep behind a fence
Image: Heidi Bell/Babydoll Sheep UK.

Heidi Bell is one of only eight Babydoll sheep breeders in the UK and she’s on a mission to save this incredibly rare breed.

There are less than 200 left in the UK and less than 400 in the whole of Europe.

But their tiny stature – around 22 inches – means they are ideal eco-friendly mowers for orchards and vineyards, as they’re unable to reach the fruit.

Their small size is also a benefit for easier handling.

History of the Babydoll

The Southdown sheep, dubbed ‘Babydoll’due to its teddy bear appearance, is one of the oldest of the English breeds.

It originates from the South Down hills of Sussex and was driven to near extinction by the end of WW2, as people wanted larger cuts of meat.

A ‘leggier’ modern Southdown sheep was bred to overcome this problem, meaning the traditional miniature Olde English Babydoll Southdown all but disappeared.

It was re-introduced to the UK 20 years ago. 

Heidi bell with Babydoll sheep
Babydoll sheep measure just 22 inches. Image: Heidi Bell.

Largest UK flock

Heidi, whose grandfather and great-grandfather were Cumbrian sheep farmers, discovered Babydolls when she moved to a property with a few acres and began looking for small pet sheep breeds.

“I became obsessed with finding any breeders [in the UK] as they were one of the original ancient sheep breeds in England.

“After a long wait, I was rewarded with bringing home four ewes,” she said. 

She now has a flock of 47 registered pedigree Babydolls including ewes, tups and wethers – and whilst it’s a small flock, it’s the largest in the UK.

She is also selling rams for the first time this year.

READ MORE: Pioneering vineyard is using sheep fleece to give wines a fuller body

Naturally trusting

Babydolls are naturally open and trusting of human contact, Heidi says, and she doesn’t even need a sheepdog. 

“I call the sheep, and they usually follow me where we need to go. 

“The unique relationships and daily cuddles with each of the sheep are the balance to my work/life balance. 

“It’s this insight that has seen several of our Insta reels go viral.”

All of Heidi’s Babydolls are born, raised, retired or rehomed as pets. 

Future of Babydoll sheep

Heidi Bell with Babydoll sheep
Image: Heidi Bell.

Heidi wants to see the breed registered and supported as an ‘At Risk’ ancient British sheep breed. 

I’d also like to continue building awareness of the breed and create mini flocks across the UK to a sustainable number,” she added.

In order to achieve this, she said: “It’s imperative that new Babydoll owners are committed to being members of NABSSAR, ensuring ewes are registered with the breed register and must be tupped with registered pedigree rams to ensure a pure, successful breeding programme for the future.”

The North American Babydoll Southdown Sheep Association and Registry (NABSSAR) is a non-profit corporation serving the Babydoll Southdown community.

For more information on Heidi’s Babydoll sheep visit Babydoll Sheep UK.

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