The American Blackbelly sheep is a hair sheep, originally developed by crossbreeding programs involving primarily Mouflon and Barbados Blackbelly. Resulting hybrids produced poor horn growth that interfered with the animals' faces. Repeated back crossing on the Mouflon improved horn growth to the extent that the hybrid attracted the attention of trophy hunters. Eventually, a strain of exotic looking animals with massive horns evolved and came to be referred to as "Corsican" in reference to the origin of the Mouflon ancestors. The original cross has subsequently been developed into several distinctive breeds of hair sheep. The American Blackbelly is a breed of Corsican descent that is readily identifiable by a very well-defined coat pattern and is registered by the Barbados Blackbelly Sheep Association International. Rams generally display spectacular horns, while ewes generally are polled (hornless.) The sheep sport a distinctive hair coat in a range of tan to brown to red, with dramatic black markings.
The American Blackbelly is a thrifty, energetic, small- to medium-sized sheep with a strong flocking instinct. It is well adapted to a broad range of environments, breeding goals, and management styles. On the farm, it is desired for its productivity and thriftiness, great prolificacy, and fairly low maintenance. Mature ewes generally have two to three or more lambs in any season, and depending on management, are capable of three litters every year and a half or so. They are very good mothers. Because of their fecundity and out-of-season breeding, ewes are suited to an accelerated lambing program.
American Blackbelly sheep will grow more or less winter wool, mostly in response to local winter conditions, which is entirely cast in spring/summer to reveal a coarse, flat hair coat with distinctive, antelope-like markings. It is never docked or sheared.
In certain parts of the country, the primary focus of many breeders is breeding trophy class rams. However, this versatile animal is enjoying growing popularity outside game ranching as an important asset to the small farm. In addition to the continued economic importance of trophy rams, the American Blackbelly is adaptable to many management programs and objectives. It is capable of uses ranging from biological weed management owing to its foraging capabilities, to exotic, exceptionally delicious gourmet lamb. This sheep produces a lean, fine-grained, and mild meat, highly suited to the production of gourmet lamb or the religious holiday small lamb market. It also is popular with herding dog enthusiasts.
The Barbados Barbados Blackbelly Sheep Association International has registered American Blackbelly sheep since 1996. However, the name "American Blackbelly" was adopted in 2004 to end confusion between Barbados Blackbelly and the horned Corsican hybrid that resembles it.
The American Blackbelly Sheep registry is an "open" registry, inviting sheep of Corsican type that meet the following breed standards to be registered with the Barbados Barbados Blackbelly Sheep Association International:
- General Appearance--The American Blackbelly sheep is unique among hair sheep because of its exotic look and black facial bars. The breed displays the demeanor of a noble animal, which is strong, alert, well muscled, and clean cut. Along with being badger-faced, they exhibit the black markings on the face, legs, belly, inguinal region, chin and chest. They have an average height at their withers from 24 to 28 inches in the ewes and 30 to 32 inches in the rams. The rams are known for their massive rack of horns, with curls of 30 inches or larger in the more mature animal. Many of the characteristics and traits will not be fully recognizable until they mature.
- Head--The head is medium size and proportioned to the neck and body. It will be noble with a typical "roman" nose. The head of the ram is distinctly masculine and that of the ewe is feminine. The muzzle is wide and strong with firm lips. The lower jaw is colored black. The incisor teeth must meet the dental pad.
- Ears--The ears are pointed and when alert stick out from the side of the head parallel to the ground. The inside of the ear is black. Some variation in the size of ears is permitted. Floppy and half ears or less (elf ears) are a disqualifying trait.
- Horns--The rams, depending on their maturity and heritage, will have differently shaped and sized horns. Most horns are acceptable as long as they clear the face and do not hinder or impair the animal's quality of life. Acceptable horn shapes include tight horn curls; large horns that sweep out and curve behind the neck (supracervical); heart- shaped horns; and horns that sweep outward in a spiral (homonymous). Overall, horns should be well-balanced and symmetrical. Rams should not have loose scurs or horn buds at maturity. Ewes may be polled or horned or have loose scurs or horn buds.
- Neck--The neck is strong and muscular, clean cut, and without loose folds of skin. Mature rams have a neckpiece of long hair, up to 6 inches, that extends down the neck to the brisket. An armor of coarse hair covers the entire neck. Occasionally, wattles are found, but they will be a disqualifying trait.
- Forequarters--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. The pasterns (between the fetlock and the hoof) are strong and springy; these sheep are known for their ability to jump. The forelegs are black on the front from the knees down.
Hindquarters: 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) should be discouraged.
- Legs--The legs should be well-muscled and sturdy. The legs are long and trim, while generally considered to be well-set to the body. Weak or fragile legs are disqualifying traits. The hooves should be black and well formed.
- Feet--The hooves should be black and well-formed.
- Body--Body capacity should be relatively large in relation to the size of the animal. The average weight for a mature ewe is 75 to 95 pounds; the average weight of a mature ram is 110 to 140 pounds. The body of both should be deep and wide with well sprung ribs.
- Topline--The withers are higher than and sloping into a level back. The loin viewed from the top should be broad and strong.
- Tail--The tail should be long, reaching to the top of the hocks as the sheep is walking. The color should blend in, with the exception of a distinct white tip of no more than 1 ½ inches being permissible. The tail should not be docked.
- Coat--The coat is a complete covering of medium to thick hair, with minor wooliness to be tolerated. A wooly coat that is not shed in the spring of the year is not permitted. The sheep should not require shearing.
- Color--The color of the animal is highlighted with contrasting black underparts, extending down the inside of the legs. Black markings on the nose, forehead, and inside of the ears are typical of the breed. The main body color can vary from light fawn through brown to reddish brown to dark mahogany red. White, other than in the tip of the tail, is a disqualifying trait.
Reference:"Barbados Blackbelly Sheep Association International." 12 Feb. 2007 <http://www.blackbellysheep.org>.
Barbados Blackbelly Sheep Association International.