What is an American Blackbelly Sheep?

I'll admit it. I'm a lazy farmer. I want to enjoy my animals and have them take care of some of the chores I hate so I can take care of other chores I hate (don't even get me started on the never ending fencing around).

I call my flock the "Edible Lawnmowers." Weeds, willows, and grass are devoured with wild abandon when I rotate them from field to field. They have lowered my environmental footprint (and raised my savings) by doing my lawn-mowing and weed-wacking. They fertilize almost continuously, as well do some watering.

Yes, they have eaten my garden on occasion. And the neighbors garden. And the huckleberries on the other side of the fence I thought was sheep tight.

What can I say? Sheep happens.

The American Blackbelly hair sheep has a unique, exotic look. The main body color can vary from light fawn through brown to reddish brown to dark mahogany red.  A smaller animal, ewes average  between 24-28" at the withers and rams average between 30-32" at the withers.

The head is medium sized and proportional to the neck and body. The muzzle is wide and strong with firm lips and incisor teeth that meet the dental pad. The chin is colored black and the nose is roman nose shaped.

The ears are pointed and stick out from the side of the head parallel to the ground. The inside of the ears are black. Floppy or half ears are a disqualifying characteristics for registration in the Blackbelly Registry Sheep Association International.

The eyes are brown in color and almond shaped. A wide black mark runs from above the eye to the base of the crown. Inverted eyelids is a conformation fault and should not be permitted in breeding stock.

The rams are known for their massive rack of horns, with curls of 30 inches or larger in the more mature animal. Most horns are acceptable as long as they clear the face and do not hinder, or impair the animal’s quality of life. Rams with loose scurs and horn buds at maturity are not acceptable in breeding stock or for registration.

Depending on maturity and genetics, rams will have differently shaped and sized horns such as: tight horn curls; large horns that sweep out and curve behind the neck; heart- shaped horns; and horns that sweep outward in a spiral.Horns should be well-balanced and symmetrical.

Ewes may be polled or horned and loose scurs and horn buds are permissible.

The neck is strong and muscular, clean cut without loose folds of skin and should have a black mark running from chin down to the inguinal area. Mature rams have a neck-piece of long hair, up to 6 inches, which extends down the neck to the brisket. An armor of coarse hair covers the entire neck. Occasionally, wattles are found, but they are be a disqualifying trait.

The shoulders are laid on flat and both the upper arm and the shoulder blade are well muscled. The forelegs viewed from the side are straight, well-muscled, and sturdy. The forelegs are black on the front from the knees down.

The pasterns (between the fetlock and the hoof) are strong and springy. These sheep are known for their ability to jump. They seem to prefer standing on my round bales of hay to survey their pasture and see Wendy coming from the house.

The hindquarters should be muscular with a long sloping croup (rump). The hind legs viewed from behind should be straight. Any tendency to cow hock (pulled together as if tied together) is discouraged.

The hooves should be black and well-formed. Blackbellies are known for being resistant to foot diseases. I usually only have to trim their hooves in the spring when I have them cornered in the lambing pens or am doing the breeding ewes' vaccinations.

Body capacity should be relatively large in relation to the size of the animal. The average weight for a mature ewe will be 75 to 95lbs. The average weight of a mature ram is 110 to 140lbs. The body of both should be deep and wide with well-sprung ribs. The withers are higher than and sloping into a level back. The loin viewed from the top should be broad and strong.

Ewes have a larger body capacity to support multiple fetal deliveries with an adequate udder and a larger pelvis for ease in birth. They can be bred year around due to having non-seasonal estrus and can be bred back quickly.

The tail should be long, reaching to the top of the hocks, and the color should blend in, with the exception of a distinct white tip of no more than 1 ½ inches being permissible. The tail is not docked which for a busy hobby farmer like me is a definite plus.

The coat is a complete covering of medium to thick hair, with minor wooliness to be tolerated. A woolly coat that is not shed in the spring of the year is a disqualifying trait. The sheep should not require shearing. Again, another big plus for busy sheep owners.