As its name suggests, the Barbados Blackbelly is a breed of the Caribbean. Records dating as far back as the 1600s suggest that the breed arose as a result of crossbreeding between hair sheep from Africa and wool sheep from Europe. Several hundred years of interbreeding on the island gave rise to a landrace well adapted to tropical heat and poor-quality pastures.
New sheep were introduced to the mix from time to time. American sheep of an unknown type arrived around 1850. The Blackhead Persian came several decades later in the 1930s. The Wiltshire Horn followed in the 1950s. While none of these breeds had a tremendous impact on the landrace population, they did introduce new colors and patterns, along with the occasional horned ram.
Barbados Blackbelly was first imported into the United States as early as 1904 by the USDA for research purposes. Another group was brought to Texas in 1945, while a few more went to North Carolina in the 1970s.
The Barbados Blackbelly quickly became well established in Texas. Here it has long been crossbred either for a larger carcass or for horns to satisfy trophy hunters. Nondescript crosses go under the designation of “Barbado,” while the impressive horned type is called the American Blackbelly.
However, crossbreeding was so extensive for a time that the original robust genetics were nearly lost. In 2004, there were only about 100 true Barbados Blackbelly sheep left in the United States, fewer than a dozen of which were rams. A group of breeders banded together to make a dedicated effort to preserve the breed, and their efforts paid off.
The popularity of the Barbados Blackbelly has been increasing in recent years with that of the other hair sheep breeds thanks to the fact that they are easy to care for due to their lack of wool. There are over 3,000 Barbados Blackbelly sheep in the United States today.
The Barbados Blackbelly is a hair sheep used almost solely for meat production. Some sheep are raised and marketed as purebred lamb, but crossbreeding is common for commercial meat production.
The docility, strong flocking instinct, and low maintenance requirements of this breed have also made it a common choice for training and trialing herding dogs.
The Barbados Blackbelly retains much of its wild instinct, being alert, fast-moving, and not above jumping the fence. When unaccustomed to human handling, it can be rather nervous. With proper handling and judicious use of treats, it can become fairly docile, although not particularly friendly.
However, the Barbados Blackbelly is nevertheless easy to herd due to its strong flocking instinct. It is not a pugnacious breed and should pose no problem to a more timid sheepdog in training.
Ewes tend to be very protective of their lambs. This characteristic should moderate as they grow used to their human handlers.
This breed is exceptionally hardy and heathy, with excellent disease resistance and no health problems of note. Given the increasing problem of wormer-resistant parasites in the sheep world, the natural resistance of the Barbados Blackbelly to parasites is of vital importance.
Ewes are known for sound udders.
While the Barbados Blackbelly sheep is best known for its adaptation to hot, humid climates, colder, drier weather should not present an issue. Some sheep will grow a short winter coat, which will shed out in the spring.
- Suitability for beginners.
- Suitability for a wide range of climates, particularly those that are hot and humid.
- Natural polling in most individuals.
- Excellent foraging ability, even on low-quality pastures.
- Parasite and disease resistance.
- Nonseasonal reproduction.
- Prolific tendencies, averaging 2.5 lambs at a time.
- Good mothering ability.
- Mild meat flavor.
- Very lean meat.
- Ability to transmit hardiness and good disposition to crossbred offspring.
- Tendency to jump fences.
- Slow weight gain.
- Small carcass.