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In tropical America there are two quite different types of sheep. In the highlands there is a wooled sheep, called Criollo, which originated from the coarse-wooled Churro imported from Spain during the period 1548 to 1812. It is a small to medium-sized animal producing a small quantity of coarse wool which is important for the cottage wool industry. The males have horns. Colour is often white but coloured and pied animals are common.

This is the principal breed in Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. There are also small populations in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. There is a population of wooled sheep in Jamaica, called St. Elizabeth sheep, which also has a European origin but it is not known when or from where their ancestors were introduced.

There do not appear to be any prolific strains among the Criollo sheep so they will not be considered further.

The second type of sheep is a woolless or hair sheep whose colour is commonly tan (red-brown), white, or patterns involving tan. Males lack horns but are characterized by a shoulder and throat ruff of long hair. This hair sheep is found in many Caribbean islands and in mainland countries along the north coast of South America. Populations will be described from Barbados, Virgin Islands, Bahamas, Cuba, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Colombia and Brazil. The hair sheep is of African origin but, in countries where wooled Criollo sheep do not occur (e.g. Cuba), it may be termed “Criollo” which tends to be confusing.

Among the hair sheep the Barbados Blackbelly has long been famous for its high prolificacy. More recently the white sheep of the Virgin Islands has been shown to rival the Barbados in this respect. A report from Bahamas (Peritz, 1978 personal communication) suggested that the Bahama native sheep could produce three lambs per year under good conditions which would put it in the prolific class. In fact the average is much lower.

The other populations are described for completeness since there has been no previous comprehensive account of them. Furthermore, they are closely related to the prolific populations and presumably the same genes are available for selection. Indeed high litter sizes have been reported in some flocks of the Brazilian hair sheep (see Section 2.8).

2.1 BARBADOS BLACKBELLY SHEEP by R.K. Rastogi, H.E. Williams and F.C. Youssef

The island of Barbados. Barbados is the most easterly of the West Indian islands. Its area is only 4,300 square kilometers but its population is 248,000. The climate is equable with temperature ranging between 22°C and 30°C. Annual rainfall is 1520mm, most of which falls between June and December. Unlike most other Caribbean islands, which are volcanic, Barbados is a coral island.

Arable crops, chiefly sugar cane, cover 77 percent of the land area and pasture only 9 percent. This pasture is chiefly rough grazing with native tropical grasses. According to FAO (1978) its livestock population consists of 49,000 sheep, 38,000 pigs, 26,000 goats, 18,000 cattle and 5,000 equines.

Origin and history of the Barbados Blackbelly. It is generally agreed that these hair sheep were introduced into Barbados from West Africa. They have existed in Barbados for well over three hundred years. Ligon in “A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados” (1657) wrote (on p. 59) “We have here, but very few [sheepe]; and these do not like well the pasture, being very unfit for them; a soure tough and saplesse grasse, and some poisonous plant they find, which breeds diseases amongst them, and so they dye away, they never are fat, and we thought a while the reason had been, their too much heate with their wool, and so got them often shorne; but that would not cure them, yet the Ews bear always two Lambs, their flesh when we tried any of them had a very faint taste, so that I do not think they are fit to be bred or kept in that Country: other sheep we have there, which are brought from Guinny and Binny, and those have haire growing on them instead of wool; and are liker Goates than Sheep, yet their flesh is tasted more like mutton than the other”.

“Guinny” is clearly Guinea, the Gulf rather than the present country of that name. “Binny” may be-Benin, or Benny on the Niger Delta. (For further discussion about West African sheep and the possible origin of the Barbados Blackbelly and the other hair sheep of tropical America, see Section 2.9).

On an earlier page (p. 23) Ligon records that there were no domestic animals, except pigs, on the island when Sir William Curteens landed there in 1624. The two kinds of sheep must have been introduced between 1624 and 1657. It is clear that wool sheep did not thrive; nothing is said about the thrift of the hair sheep. The curious thing is that the high fertility is attributed to the wool sheep whereas it is now the hair sheep which exhibit this characteristic. Could this have been a result of crossbreeding combined with selection? A hundred years later the wool sheep had apparently died out since Hughes (1750) wrote: “The Sheep that are natural to this climate and are chiefly bred here, are hairy like Goats. To be covered with Wool, would be as prejudicial to them in these hot Climates as it is useful in Winter Countries for Shelter and Warmth”.

Numbers. At present the Ministry of Agriculture estimates that there are something over 30,000 sheep in Barbados; about one-third are purebred Blackbelly (see Plates 1–3), another one-third are grade Blackbelly (off-type in colour or with white spots) and the remaining are “others” (see Frontispiece). The last category includes hair sheep of other colours such as, white, tan, black or pied, and crosses with Blackhead Persian and wool sheep (mainly Wiltshire Horn). In fact in or around 1950, simultaneous importations of Wiltshire Horn sheep from the U.K. occurred in Barbados (Patterson, 1976), Tobago (Trinidad and Tobago, 1953) and Guyana (Devendra, 1975) with the objective of improving the quality of local sheep by crossbreeding. It has been estimated in Barbados that about 10 percent of the lambs born from woolless sheep at present are more or less woolly and these are not kept for breeding.

The Blackbelly was the commonest breed on the estates surveyed by Patterson and Nurse (1974). Sixty-three percent had only this breed and on the others the dominant type was Blackbelly crossbred. A few farms kept Wiltshires. The Blackbelly was the dominant breed on all the small farms in the survey; Blackbelly crosses were next in importance and Wiltshires were present on only 12 of the 97 farms surveyed.

Export and present distribution. Because of the high prolificacy of these sheep (as opposed to one lamb per lambing for most of the tropical sheep breeds), they have been in great demand from many countries. As early as 1902 they were exported to St. Lucia and from there to Antigua. In 1903 there was a report of a Blackbelly ewe on Tortola (British Virgin Islands) giving birth to five lambs (Patterson, 1976). They are now widely distributed throughout the Commonwealth Caribbean (the Bahamas, Jamaica, the Leeward and Windward islands, Trinidad and Tobago, and Guyana), the French Antilles (Guadeloupe and Martinique) and the Netherlands Antilles (Curaçao and Aruba).

Blackbelly sheep (along with West African and Blackhead Persian) were imported into Venezuela in 1961 from Trinidad and Tobago and from Barbados by the Sección de Zootecnia del Centro de Investigaciones Agronomicas at Maracay (Bodisco, Duque and Valles, 1973). These “West African” sheep are described by Reverón et al. (1976) as uniform light brown with paler belly, face and inner surface of the legs. Some are darker in colour. They are also called “West African” in Trinidad but in Barbados would be described as an off-colour variety of the Blackbelly.

Blackbelly sheep have also been exported to Mexico, Panama and Taiwan. A consignment sent to Canada was slaughtered on arrival because the sheep were found to be positive for bleu-tongue antibodies (Moe, 1975, cited by Williams, 1975), although the disease has not manifested itself clinically in Barbados.

Four yearling ewes and one ram of this breed were originally introduced into the U.S.A. by the U.S.D.A. in 1904 (Rommell, 1904) and were stationed at Bethesda, Maryland (Patterson, 1976). Flocks of these sheep are now located at North Carolina State University (Prof. Lemuel Goode), at Texas A & M University Experiment Station (at least until recently) (Dr. Maurice Shelton), and at Dixon Ranch, California (Prof. G.M. Spurlock) (see Plate 4); more recently, a small flock of crossbred Blackbelly sheep has been located at Ohio State Agricultural Experiment Station (Dr. Charles Parker) as part of a cooperative research programme with the International Sheep and Goat Institute, Utah (Foote, 1977).

In central Texas, and particularly on Edward's Plateau, there is a large population of hair sheep. These are descended from the Blackbellies introduced at the beginning of the century. Later, about 25 years ago, they were crossed with European mouflon in order to put horns on the males and now they are bred primarly as game animals. There has also been some crossing with Rambouillet (Shelton, 1976; Foote, 1977). The colour of these sheep is now very variable. It may be tan, tan with pale belly, tan with black belly, black or pied. The males all carry horns which may be of the mouflon type or the Rambouillet type (Spurlock, 1974; Mason, 1978). There used to be upwards of a quarter of a million of these hair sheep in Texas. Now the numbers are much less, possibly something over 100,000. Predation by coyotes is one of the causes of this decline, also slaughter and export (mostly to Mexico).

The rams of such flocks, which are semi-feral, are commonly used for hunting on game ranches in Texas and have been shipped to other states for this purpose. Most of the California Blackbelly flocks are either for meat for domestic consumption, or the animals are kept as pets or as game for hunting (Spurlock, 1974, 1976). These sheep in the U.S.A. are called by various names such as mouflon-Barbados, Black Bellied Barbados, West Indian Blackbelly, Barbados, Barbadol, Barb, or most commonly Barbado.

In an attempt to build up numbers a ban on exports from Barbados was imposed in June 1974. Since it did not have the desired effect it was lifted in July 1976.

Colour. Body colour varies from light to dark reddish-brown (tan) with very conspicuous black underparts. The black colouration covers the lower jaw, the chin, throat, breast, entire belly, axillary and inguinal regions, and inner sides of the legs, and extends as a narrow line along the underside of the tail nearly to the tip. On the outer side of each leg the paler colour persists dorsally only as a restricted and more or less broken stripe. The inner surface of the ear is black, and there is a conspicuous black stripe on the face above and anterior to each eye and to the tip of the muzzle. In the adult male the occipital area immediately behind the horn bases is also black. Where the hair is short, as on the breast and belly, the black area is sharply delimited, but in the longer hair of the outer sides of the thighs and on the mane of the male the transition from black to pale colour is more gradual. The colour of the back and sides is reddish-brown, which becomes paler on the face, the sides of the neck, and the flanks. A white spot is found below and slightly in front of each eye and sometimes another smaller white spot above it. The tip of the tail may occasionally be white.

The black belly pattern is termed badger-face by geneticists whether the back is white or tan. It is in the agouti series and appears to be recessive to self-colour white or tan but dominant to black (Lauvergne and Adalsteinsson, 1976).

Appearance and size. Johnson (1944) has given a good description of the colour and appearance of these sheep. They differ from what is considered a desirable mutton type in being far too narrow-bodied, long-necked, and angular. Patterson (1976) called them “decidedly leggy”; however, Johnson (1944) indicated that these sheep are less leggy than some other of the African types. The ears are of medium size and do not droop (i.e. they are carried horizontally). The dorsal outline of the muzzle is not conspicuously convex as it is in the Dorset or Suffolk, but there is a slight tendency towards Roman nose in the rams. There is no unusual deposit of fat on the rump or tail which reaches to the hocks. The breed is normally hornless but occasionally rams are scurred and even less often they carry small bluishgrey horns that describe only about half a spiral. On the other hand, the rams of present-day Barbado sheep in the U.S.A. are almost entirely horned and horns curl backwards and outwards, or may describe a full spiral.

The hair of the body averages about 2.5 cm long and in texture resembles that of a domestic goat. The hair of Barbado sheep is much longer, perhaps as protection against lower temperatures. Gallagher and Shelton (1973) reported the mean fibre diameter for Barbado sheep and non-Angora meat-type goat (Spanish goat) as 49.0 and 32.4 microns respectively and concluded that the Barbado showed an abnormal extension towards coarse fibre type. Any sign of wool on Blackbelly sheep in Barbados is believed to be due to past crossing with the Wiltshire Horn and is selected against. The male carries a throat ruff and a well developed mane of hair 10 to 15 cm long.

In size and general proportions, they resemble the medium-sized breeds. The average height at withers varies from 60 to 70 cm in the ewes and 75 to 81 cm in the rams. The adult rams weigh from 50 to 70 kg and ewes weigh from 32 to 43 kg (Maule, 1977; Mason, 1978). The average weight for mature Barbado sheep has been reported as 45 kg for ewes and 48 to 57 kg for rams (Spurlock, 1974).

Adaptability, behaviour and temperament. Barbados Blackbelly sheep are hardy and well adapted to a semi-arid tropical environment in which they have been reared for at least three centuries in close association with man. They seem to tolerate moderate variations in environmental temperatures quite well and at times show some degree of physiological adaptation. For example, one of the sheep that was imported into the U.S.A. in 1904 developed a considerable amount of wool on its shoulders presumably as a reaction to the cooler Maryland climate (Patterson, 1976). In the Caribbean, these sheep can be seen grazing at high noon.

Patterson (1976) has noted that the ewes show good maternal behaviour and normally make excellent mothers. Their milk production is good and they can easily rear up to three lambs if adequately fed. Poor mothering ability is sometimes apparent among young, nervous mothers, particularly those in their first lambing. Sometimes an ewe may allow the lambs born first to suckle while ignoring the others. Ewes will almost never accept strange lambs so that fostering orphan lambs is not possible; one must resort to artificial rearing of lambs in excess of three per litter.

The fact that these sheep have traditionally been reared in small flocks in close association with man has rendered them intelligent, gentle and docile. In fact, they make good pets. On the other hand, Dr. Reverón at Maracay (Venezuela) described them as having a nervous temperament.

Barbado sheep in the U.S.A. have also been described as of wild temperament (Shelton, 1976; Foote, 1977). However, Spurlock (1974) has made the following observations:

“These sheep, though reared as feral stock or from their progeny, become extremely gentle with close handling. They are, however, quick to react to strange people or new surroundings but adjust well after a short period. They appear to be quite intelligent as compared to other sheep, make excellent pets, and at least some individuals reared off their mothers are able to recognize their individual names.

“Observation indicates that while they withstand heat or cold well, part of this adjustment to extremes is behavioral rather than physiological. For instance cold wind or warm sun rather quickly results in a flock finding refuge in some shelter under conditions when wooled sheep remain in the open. They are extremely reactive to strange dogs or cats, usually acting as though wishing to flee. In a close corral and in defense of young, less timid individuals show protective behavior, raising a front leg as though warning off the predator and occasionally bristling the hair on top of the neck and even jumping at the animal to strike with the forefeet. Ewes with very young lambs show protective behavior to a high degree. Some individual rams will charge dogs repeatedly with little or no provocation.”

“Mating behavior is similar to that of other sheep but heat in the females appears to be more evident. The ewes adopt a mating stance in front of the ram and look backover the shoulder to the ram. They stand steady on mounting. In the mating stance the ewe shakes her tail quickly from side to side and this behavior appears to excite the ram which mates repeatedly, at short intervals over the mating period of approximately 48 hours. Rams start chasing ewes approximately 48 hours prior to standing heat. If one or more ewes are not in heat or coming in, the ram will perform rape on any ewe in any convenient crowded situation”.

Boyd (1978) noted that barbado rams would mount other rams when in mulisire groups.

Management. Sheep farming in Barbados is normally a secondary interest and as such a backyard operation. Traditionally, sheep have been kept by peasant farmers as a ready source of cash or of meat for special occasions. About 80 percent of the sheep population in Barbados exists in flocks of 5 to 10 sheep. After having recognized the export value of these sheep, farmers have now joined under the umbrella of the “Barbados sheep Farmers Association” formed in 1975. There are about 60 members controlling about 20 percent of the total sheep in the country (Rastogi, 1975). Apart from a few large flocks kept by estates, the only sheep “farm” is the Government experimental farm at Greenland and more recently at Sedge Pond.

The larger flocks on the estates are reared under an extensive system whereby sheep are allowed to graze during the day and are penned during the night to guard against predators and larceny. Some estate farmers supplement grazing, especially in the dry season, with waste vegetables or with sugarcane tops ensiled with molasses and urea. Small farmers, however, follow the tethering system of management whereby 3 to 5 sheep are grazed in a group along the roadsides. Thus, children or cheap family labour is made use of to manage the sheep.

The majority of farmers deworm their sheep routinely every 3 months (Patterson and Nurse, 1974). Lambs are normally allowed to run with and suckle their mothers as long as the ewe will permit; if they are to be sold lambs are weaned at 8 weeks. Casteration of young lambs is almost never practised in Barbados.

Health. The health status of any sheep population is affected to a great extent by the degree of rainfall and humidity. In Barbados, most sheep are located in the drier coastal areas and are normally free of any major diseases. It has been claimed that they exhibit high tolerance or possess natural resistance to internal parasites (Shelton, 1976; Thompson, n.d.). Yazwinski, Goode and Moncol (1976) reported from North Carolina that Barbado sheep and their crosses are more resistant to gastro-intestinal parasites (primarily Haemonchus contortus) than purebred Dorsets and Suffolks. Barbado and their crosses had lower faecal egg counts, higher haemoglobin levels, higher haemoglobin concentrations per haematocrit and higher white blood cell counts than Dorsets and Suffolks. On the other hand, Mansfield et. al., (1977) found no significant difference in resistance to infection with H. contortus larvae between lambs sired by Targhee and by Barbado rams.

Prof. Thompson, working at Texas Technical University, stated that the Barbado seemed to be healthier and sturdier in confinement than the Rambouillet.

Notwithstanding the above, gastro-intestinal parasites have been identified as the major health problem. Most important of these is Haemonchus although coccidiosis is also observed. Ungria (n.d.) diagnosed the presence of a new species of coccidia (Eimeria granulosa) and consequently he advised that all imported sheep be treated with sulphonamides in addition to the routine anthelmintic treatment.

Other diseases mentioned are mange, footrot, pink eye, tick fever, pneumonia, mastitis, and metritis. Nevertheless, Patterson and Nurse (1974) report that sickness is very uncommon among sheep in Barbados. Footrot and pneumonia are more prevalent among exotics and their crosses. In Venezuela, myiasis has been identified as the major problem when sheep are on pasture under poor weather conditions but not so if confied indoors. Recently, there was high mortality among older ewes towards the end of pregnancy, particularly if they were carrying three or more foetuses (Reverón, 1978). In Guyana, enterotoxaemia has been suspected to be the major cause of high mortality among lambs. Recently, adult Blackbelly sheep at Ebini in the Intermediate Savannahs, Guyana, have been suffering from weakness of the hindquarters (not white muscle disease) or staggers, the cause of which has not yet been identified in spite of help from PAHO experts (Nurse, 1978).

Prolificacy. One of the most outstanding qualities of Blackbelly sheep is their high prolificacy; multiple births (twins and triplets) are common. The survey of Patterson and Nurse (1974), which covered 167 ewes on 18 estates and 369 ewes on 97 small farms revealed that two was the most frequent litter size on estates but there were a few producers who had litters of three. On small farms the average litter size was stated to be two. This estimate for litter size is confirmed by the figures given in the report of Patterson (1978) and quoted in Table 1. Litters of five or more lambs have occasionally been recorded (Johnson, 1944; Patterson, 1976). Similar figures emerge from the records reported by Laurie (1978) on two private farms in Barbados totalling about 100 ewes. Little size averaged 2.0 and births were distributed as follows: single births 30 percent, twin births 45 percent, triplet births 24 percent, quadruplet births 1.5 percent, quintuplet births 0.4 percent.

Table 1 Reproductive performance of Blackbelly sheep on three Government stations in Barbados
StationYearsNo. of ewesNo. of littersNo. of lambsAverage litter sizeLambing interval (months)
Six Cross Roads1972–7527173114321.968.34
Central Livestock Station1975–78611764052.309.0
Total 488107921942.038.48

Birth Type (%)26.847.322.13.40.4

Source: Patterson, 1978

Figures on prolificacy from published data recorded elsewhere are given in Table 2. The average litter size varied from 1.45 to 1.75 per lamb crop. These values are lower than those reported by Patterson (1978) in Barbados. This may be due to the fact that accelerated lambing rhythm (three lamb crops every two years) lowers the litter size per lamb crop. Further, it has been observed that sheep produce larger litters when raised in small flocks and in close association with man (which Barbados Blackbelly sheep are traditionally accustomed to) than in large flocks (Turner, 1976). Thus Mr. Kent of Craigston Estate (Carriacou, Grenada) has reported average litter size of 2.0 for a small flock of 10 foundation ewes that were imported from Barbados.

Spurlock (1978) has selected his Barbado flock for frequent lambing, with some emphasis on body size and multiple births. His remaining flock of 10 mature ewes averaged 1.9–2.0 lambs per birth during 1976 and 1977. Goode (1978) reports that in later years his Barbado ewes, have averaged about 1.6 lambs per birth when lambing in August-September but about 1.8 when lambing in January-February.

Table 2 Summary of prolificacy figures for Blackbelly outside Barbados compared with other tropical breeds. (Litter size = lambs born per lambing)

 BlackbellyWest AfricanCriolloCountry and reference
Ewes lambing 195  277  277Venezuela
Litter size1.451.431.13(Bodisco et al.,
Single births %  61  59  881973)
Twin births %  33  39  11 
Triplet births %  6   2   1 
Ewes lambing 12  15  14Venezuela
Litter size1.751.661.40(Mazzarri et al., 1973)
Ewes lambing52  85  40Venezuela
Litter size1.661.551.27(Mazzarri et al., 1976)
Ewes lambing145  Guyana
Litter size1.68  (calculated from Devendra, 1977)
Single births %41.4   
Twin births %48.3   
Triplet births %10.3   
Ewes lambing   101U.S.A., California
Litter size  1.68(Spurlock, 1974)
Ewes lambing    34U.S.A., N. Carolina
Litter size  1.56(Goode and Tugman 1975)

Other aspects of female reproduction. In the experiment of Mazzari et al. (1976), for which litter size has already been quoted, the percentage of ewes coming into heat after treatment with fluorgestone in vaginal sponges was 98.5 for the Blackbelly compared with 94.9 for West African and 76.9 for Criollo. The percentage of these ewes lambing was 73.9, 73.9 and 67.1 respectively. Goode and Tugman (1975) have shown the high fertility of Barbado and Barbado cross ewes (see Table 3). These figures have been confirmed by data from two additional lamb crops (Goode, 1978).

Table 3 Reproductive performance of ewes mated to Suffolk rams in summer and early fall breeding at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, 1974–75

Ewe breedNo. of ewesEwes lambing (%)Lambs born per ewe lambingLambs alive at 30 daysMortality to 30 days (%)
Dorset x Barbado4197.61.831.5614.7
Barbado x Finnish 
(young ewes)

Source: Goode and Tugman (1975)

Barbado ewe lambs can be bred first at the age of 5–8 months (Spurlock, 1978). According to Mason (1978) in Barbados under good conditions ewes can lamb first at 12–13 months but 14–15 months is the more common age at first lambing. In contrast, Patterson (1978) gives 16.8 months as the age at first breeding and 21.6 months as the age at first lambing for ewes at the Six Cross Roads sheep multiplication station. However, he also states that Blackbelly replacement ewes usually enter the breeding flock at 9–11 months of age. Average gestation periods recorded are 150 days (Spurlock, 1974) and 151 days (Reverón and Garcia, 1975).

Apart from their high prolificacy, another important characteristic of these sheep (and of most other tropical breeds) is their ability to breed throughout the year, or at least to have more than one breeding season. Spurlock (1974) reported that Barbado ewes dropped lambs in all months of the year; however, the winter period (January-February) was favoured. To exploit the phenomenon of the year-long sexual season, breeders have attempted to breed their ewes with a view to having three lamb crops every two years, that is, an interlambing period of 8 months. However, provided the flock is maintained at a high plane of nutrition and level of management, it is possible to obtain two lamb crops per year though such an accelerated lambing rhythm cannot be maintained indefinitely due to its adverse effects on litter size, lamb viability, and the general condition of the ewe herself. Boyd (1978) referred to one original ewe in his research flock of ten that had lambed eight times during a period of slightly over 4½ years (April 1974 to November 1978), produced 14 lambs and weaned all of them at 60 days of age. This ewe was never assisted at birth nor placed in a lambing pen for any period of time. Wallace et al. (1977) quoted observations by Allen (1976) and Reel (1976) that many ‘pure’ Barbado ewes showed outward signs of coming in heat and would stand for the ram three days after parturition. Patterson and Nurse (1974) reported that on estates in Barbados the most frequent lambing rate was twice per year while on small farms there were at least 1.5 lamb crops per year. Table 1 shows 8.3 and 9 months as the average intervals on two Government farms.

Foote (1977) alluded to the ability of Barbado ewes to return to fertile breeding within about one month after lambing, which established a rather short postpartum interval and made it possible to produce two lamb crops per year. Spurlock (1974) found interlambing period in his selected line during 1971–73 to be 214 days (range 174–321 days) or about 7 months, giving 1.72 lambings per ewe per year. Cull ewes averaged 258 days. By 1978 the lambing interval had been reduced to 6½ months (Spurlock, 1978). The earlier figures represent a period of 64 days (range 24–71) between lambing and subsequent conception. The longer intervals were from ewes with 3–4 lambs which appeared to retard return to breeding. Thompson (n.d.) noted that the Barbado will lamb every 9 months on the range and every 9 months or less in confinement. Goode and Tugman (1976) were able to get three lamb crops in 18 months using Blackbelly crossbred ewes. McPherson (1975) found that at Ebini the mean interlambing period for 1–2, 2–3, 3–4 and 4–5 year-old ewes was 247, 206, 190 and 213 days respectively.

Lamb mortality. Patterson and Nurse (1974) indicated that mortality is not a major problem on estates in Barbados; 40 percent of respondents had never experienced deaths. On the other hand, 43 out of 53 small farmers had recently suffered losses. The experimental report of Bodisco et al. (1973) is summarized in Table 4. Pre- and postweaning mortality was higher in Blackbelly lambs than in West African and Criollo lambs. Thus, only 65.5 percent of Blackbelly lambs survived to 6 months of age compared with 74.3 and 79.2 percent for West African and Criollo lambs respectively. As expected, mortality was higher among multiples (32.4 and 36.7 percent in twins and triplets, respectively) than singles (21.6 percent). However, no general conclusions should be drawn from this report since lamb viability is dependent on so many environmental factors such as size and health status of the flock, level of management, and whether the climate is arid or humid. Thus, when Blackbelly sheep were first introduced at Ebini (Guyana) in 1974, lamb mortality was as high as 45 percent; however, it has since been brought down to 25 percent (McPherson, 1976). In the flock of approximately 100 ewes at Craigston Estate (Carriacou), Mr. Kent indicated that lamb mortality was not much of a problem and varied from 5 to 10 percent. Mason (1978) reported that lamb mortality at the Government Farm in Barbados was 12 percent but that with poorer management it could go up to 25 percent. Thompson (n.d.) reported that, in a Barbado sheep flock, of 56 lambs born 49 were weaned, giving a mortality rate of 12.5 percent.

Table 4 Percent lamb mortality data for four breeds at Maracay, Venezuela
BreedBirth to weaningWeaning to 6 monthsBirth to 6 monthsLitter size at 6 months
Barbados Blackbelly19.115.434.50.95
West African15.89.925.71.06
Blackhead Persian21.013.634.60.89

Source: Bodisco et al., 1973

Growth. Available records of body weight and rate of gain of lambs of Blackbelly compared with other tropical breeds are summarized in Table 5. It is apparent that Blackbelly lambs grow as well as those of the other tropical breeds. This is of special importance if one realizes that more than 60 percent of the Blackbelly lambs are born as multiples. The fact that Barbado lambs (Spurlock, 1974) grew faster (190 g from birth to 6 months) than Blackbelly lambs indicates that there is tremendous scope to improve growth rate in tropical breeds by proper nutrition, management and selection.

The report by Chacon et al. (1970) is the only one that compares feed conversion efficiency among lambs of various tropical breeds including Blackbelly type (see Table 5 for various breeds involved); the amount of food required per kg gain ranged from 8.1 to 9.2 kg and the differences among breeds were statistically not significant.

Shelton et al. (1973) reported that maintenance requirements for Barbado sheep, when expressed as a function of body size (TDN in lb per lb body wt), were higher than for the Rambouillet (0.0163 vs 0.0126).

Wallace et al. (1977) reported that the Barbado-sired lambs had an acceptable rate of gain and feed efficiency under feedlot conditions when compared with halfbred Finnish Landrace lambs. The lambs were fed either 10, 20 or 40 percent roughage in a pelleted ration. Average pounds of feed per pound of gain were 5.4, 5.4 and 6.9 respectively. However, the Barbado-sired lambs grew at the greatest rate on the higher roughage ration (40 percent).

Table 5 Summary of lamb growth records of Blackbelly compared with other tropical breeds
BreedBody Birthweight (kg) Weaning 12 wksat: 6 mosDaily Prewnggain Postwng(g): OverallCountry and reference
Barbados Blackbelly2.8611.8 110  Barbados(Patterson, 1976; Pigden, 1974)
Barbados Blackbelly2.559.24a    Barbados(Patterson, 1978)
Barbados Blackbelly2.5412.120.41067790 
West African2.7812.518.21074977Venezuela(Bodisco et al., 1973)
Blackhead Persian2.4910.215.2    
Barbados Blackbelly3.113.8 127   
West African2.914.9 141  Trinidad(Rastogi et al., 1979)
Blackhead Persian3.014.4 136   
Barbados Blackbelly      Castrated and  149 Venezuela (Chacon et al., 1970)
West African      intact males  154 (Gain from 8 to
Criollo     ""  148 11 months of age)
BB x Criollo     Castrated males  153  
WA x Criollo     ""  138  
Barbados Blackbelly 13.9     
West African 14.3    Venezuela (Rios, 1968)
Blackhead Persian 13.0     
Criollo 11.6     
Barbados Blackbelly2.6  95  Guyana(Devendra, 1975)
BB x Creole2.6  100   
BarbadoRam lambs only   190USA-California(Spurlock, 1974)

a Age at weaning not given (? 8 weeks)
BB = Barbados Blackbelly
WA = West African
BP = Blackhead Persian

Crossbreeding. Most of the reports are from U.S.A. and have been summarized in Tables 6-9.

Table 6 Rsults of accelerated lambing programme at Raleigh, North Carolina (1971–73)a
TraitE w e  b r e e d
DorsetDorset x BarbadoDorset x FinnishRambouillet x Finnish
No. of potential lambing19323020
Ewes lambing (%)10010085100
Lambs born/ewe bred1.421.561.301.90
Lambs at 30 days/ewe bred0.951.501.101.65
Mean lambing dateDec. 12Dec. 1Jan. 18Jan. 6
Gestation period (days)143146144144
Lamb birth wt (kg)b2.
Mortality up to 30 days (%)

a Figures in the table are averages over 2 lamb crops in 18 months.
b All lambs were sired by Suffolk rams.

Source: Goode, 1973.

Table 7 Results of accelerated lambing programme at Upper Mountain Research Station, Laurel Spring, North Carolina (1974–75)a
  E w e  b r e e d
TraitDorset x BarbadoDorset x FinnishRambouillet x Finnish
Ewes bred474747
Ewes lambing (%)96947
Lambs born/ewe lambing1.932.142.21
Lambs marketed/ewe lambing1.691.681.89
Age at 45 kg mkt wt (days)164165164
Lamb wt /day of age (g)b272272272
Mortality up to mkt wt (%)12.321.314.6
Total lambs marketed per ewe lambing4.844.714.46

a Figures in the table are averages over 3 lamb crops in 18 months.
b All lambs sired by Suffolk rams.

Source: Goode and Tugman, 1975, 1976.

Table 8 Results of accelerated lambing programme (continuous lambing) at San Angelo, Texasa
 Ewe  breed
TraitFinnish x RambouilletBarbado x Rambouillet
No. of ewes3827
Ewe years7049
Lambings per ewe/yearb1.281.63
Lambs born per lambingb1.701.68 
Lambs surviving (%)69.3   80.4   
Lambs weaned per year1.512.21
Kilograms lamb weaned per yearc28.6   43.1  

a Preliminary results and should be interpreted with caution.
b Ewes làmbed on the range, and it is likely that some lambswere lost before being recorded.
c Early weaning weights (60–90 days).

Source: Shelton, 1976.

Table 9 Results of accelerated lambing programme at Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Stationa
 Ewe  breed
TraitBarbadoBarbado x DorsetDorset
No. of ewes15      14      15      
No. of exposures to the ram45      42      43      
Ewes lambing (%)95.5   90.5   67.4   
Lambs born/ewe lambing1.491.241.14
Lambs weaned/ewe lambing1.461.130.90
Av. lambs/year/ewe2.131.681.10
Av. lambs weaned/year/ewe2.101.540.87
Av. lamb birth wt (kg)b3.314.043.84
Av. 60-day wt weaning (kg)14.5   19.0   20.2   

a Figures in the table are averages over 3 lamb crops in 2 years.
b All lambs sired by Suffolk rams.

Source: Boyd, 1976.

Finnish Landrace and Barbados Blackbelly breeds were introduced into the U.S.A. with a view to improving fertility and prolificacy of traditional mutton breeds by crossbreeding. The resulting crossbred ewes were to be used in the southern parts of the country or in mild temperate regions like North Carolina. Further, the possibility of using these crossbred ewes in accelerated lambing systems, as opposed to the traditional one lambing per year, was to be determined. In such programmes, Suffolk has always been used as the terminal sire breed.

The report of Boyd (1976) compared the reproductive performance of pure Barbado ewes with that of Barbado x Dorset and Dorset ewes. Barbado ewes were superior in all respects except lamb body weights at birth and at 60 days. Barbado ewes weaned 1.46 lambs per ewe per lamb crop or 2.13 lambs per year.

The following conclusions can be drawn from the work in North Carolina:

The work at Laurel Springs also demonstrated that the crossbred ewes could be rebred while still nursing and that it was possible to obtain three lamb crops in 18 months.

In Texas, Barbado x Rambouillet ewes and their lambs were clearly superior to Finnish Landrace x Rambouillet ewes (Table 8).

A planned commercial crossbreeding experiment is presently underway in Barbados at the Government Farm, Greenland. Suffolk and Dorset rams were imported from the U.K. to be used on Blackbelly ewes for the production of crossbred market lambs (see Plate 5). More recently, another importation of Suffolk and Dorset rams and ewes from the U.S.A. has occured. A few crossbred lambs were born in 1977 and these were 12–14 months old in July, 1978, while another lamb crop was obtained in January, 1978. The Dorset crosses are white or sun-tan in colour with the characteristic Dorset face. The Suffolk crosses are grey-brown and always black-faced. None of the crosses showed the black belly pattern.

Experiments in Venezuela showed that crossing native Criollo ewes with Barbados Blackbelly, West African or Blackhead Persian rams increased lamb weights, singnificantly so at 6 months (see Table 10) (Reverón et al., 1978 a and b).

Table 10 Body weights of crossbreds between Barbados (BB), West African (WA), Blackhead Persian (BP) and Criollo (Cr) in Venezuela
Breed or crossBody weight (kg) at:Daily gain (g) 
birth to 6 months
(12 weeks)Six mos
BB x Criollo2.6713.618.1 
BB x (BB x Cr)2.6712.416.7 
WA x Criollo F12.6514.319.7 
WA x (WA x Cr)2.8111.816.9 
BP x Criollo F12.7813.117.0 
BP x (BP x Cr)3.0113.919.3 
BB + WA2.5314.221.0103
BB x Cr + WA x Cr2.4514.019.896

Source: Reverón et al., 1978 a and b.

Carcass characteristics of crossbreds. The data are summarized in Tables 11 and 12.

Table 11 Carcass traits in lambs sired by Suffolk rams (in Mississippi)
TraitE w e   b r e e d
BarbadoBarbado x DorsetDorset
No. of observations181610
Live weight (kg)a42.346.442.3
Carcass weight (kg)22.524.021.6
Dressing %53.151.750.9
Slaughter age (days)a220226200
Weight per day of age (g)191196220
Carcass wt per day of age (g)102106110
USDA quality grade (15 = Prime +)12.913.813.4
Leg score (15 = Prime +)12.413.213.2
Rib-eye area (cm2)13.613.813.6
Back fat thickness (mm)
Hind saddle (%)45.645.846.8
USDA yield gradea3.923.552.96
Percent kidney and pelvic fatb5.484.142.92

a Significant (P<0.05) breed differences.
b Significant (P<0.01) breed differences.

Source: Boyd, Rogers and Chapman, 1976.

Table 12 Influence of breed of sire on certain carcass characteristics of slaughter lambs born to grade Rambouillet ewes (Texas)
TraitS i r e   b r e e d
Number of carcasses18161711
Mean carcass wt (kg)23.423.422.023.0
Dressing %a56.856.955.757.4
USDA quality gradeb12.211.811.611.6
USDA yield grade3.423.454.293.60
Estimated % boneless cuts44.744.643.244.4
Estimated % total consumer cuts82.983.382.283.0
Ribeye area (cm2)12.512.011.011.6
Ribeye area per 22.7 kg carcass12.111.711.411.5
Tenderness shear (kg)
Backfat thickness (mm)
% kidney and pelvic fat3.574.656.174.28
% trim from tail and dock0.670.600.950.52
Fat colour scorec2.892.722.823.00
Fat firmness scorec3.893.273.944.09

a Based on slaughter live weight after a 100-mile haul and and 18-hour shrink.
b USDA quality grades assigned the following numerical values; High Prime-15. Av. Prime-14, Low Prime-13, High Choice-12, Av. Choice-11, Low Choice-10.
c The higher values (1–5 scale) represent a firm white fat cover, the lower values a soft oily carcass.

Source: Shelton and Carpenter, 1972.

The following conclusions can be drawn:

Chacon et al. (1970) slaughtered lambs of four breeds, viz. Blackbelly, West African, Criollo x Blackbelly and Criollo x West African, at an approximately equal live weight of 34 kg with dressing percentages of 44.0, 45.6, 44.8 and 47.2 respectively.

Spurlock (1974) commented on carcass traits of Barbado lambs as follows: “Carcass studies of male lambs sent to slaughter show that those lambs 5 to 7 months of age have much less body fat than do other comparable sheep. Fat over the rib-eye muscle (longissimus dorsi) at the 12th rib averages 1.5 to 2 mm as compared to similarly reared Suffolk or Dorset crosses which have 5 to 6 mm. Kidney and kidney fat as a percentage of carcass weight is 0.75 to 1 percent as compared to 2.5 to 3 percent or more for Suffolk and Dorset crosses. Marbling in the rib-eye muscle and feathering between ribs (intra-muscular fat) is less evident than in regular market lambs. Since USDA is strongly influenced by feathering, these carcasses tend to grade medium to high good rather than choice. Muscling is less well developed than in improved meat breeds of sheep but ribeye areas per 50 pounds (23 kg) carcass weight of the longissimus dorsi at the 12th rib are above those of the average market lamb. These measure 2.0 to 2.4 square inches (12.9 – 15.5 cm2) in surface area. Part of this advantage is due to small carcass weight, commonly 30 to 40 pounds (14–18 kg) and to lower percentage of fat in the carcass. Flavor of meat is excellent, being milder than in our usual market lambs. This is probably due to lesser fatness, since the characteristic flavor of lamb meat is primarly concentrated in the fat”. The excellent flavour of the meat is confirmed by the experience of the senior author.

Summary and Conclusion. The Blackbelly sheep are very hardy and well adapted to the tropical climate of the Caribbean. They show year-round fertility; however, it is not known if there are peak cycling periods. They are much more prolific than most other tropical breeds of sheep although apparently not as prolific as has often been claimed. Venezuelan West African sheep posses the same qualities as do the Blackbelly and in fact, Venezuelan workers at Maracay expressed preference for the West African breed. In any experiment designed to evaluate the performance of Blackbelly sheep, cognisance must be taken of the fact that these sheep are traditionally accustomed to be managed in small flocks and that their performance may deteriorate under large scale farming.

It is obvious that there is a paucity of information on the performance of Blackbelly sheep and its crosses under West Indian environment; until very recently the only objective data came from Venezuela and the U.S.A.

Recognizing the Blackbelly sheep as a unique regional resource and its special importance in raising the living standard of Barbados sheep farmers, Rastogi (1975) proposed the following action plan in order to satisfy increased demand in the export market and to improve mutton supply to the home market:

We believe that sheep farmers in Barbados are not yet ready to accept such a stratified system of sheep production. What is needed is to first demonstrate to the farmer the dollar profit that they stand to make by crossbreeding. This can be done by producing 2-breed cross lambs destined for slaughter and it should serve as a better solution for the immediate future. Meanwhile, the need to improve upon the present systems of management, feeding and health care to the benefit of the exotic breeds and crosses should be stressed to the farmers. As the benefits of crossbreeding and improved level of husbandry begin to gain acceptance with the farmers, the production of 3-breed cross lambs for market can be introduced gradually on a phased basis.

The Suffolk should be the breed of choice for the production of 2-breed cross lambs while for the production of 3-breed cross lambs, Dorset can be used to produce F1 ewes to be mated to Suffolk as the terminal sire breed.

This plan was put forward four years ago. In view of the small numbers of the pure Blackbelly on the island, its remarkable adaptation to its environment, its proved prolificacy and the interest in the breed oversease, it is now considered that the major improvement effort should be devoted to the genetic improvement of the pure bred. This should be designed to improve mutton conformation and feed efficiency without losing adaptation or prolificacy. It should be based on the performance recording of pedigree flocks and on the experimental and development flocks. In this connection it is very satisfactory to learn (Laurie, 1979) that three sheep breeding stations are going into operation in Barbados, namely those of the Ministry of Agriculture, the Agricultural Development Corporation and the Caribbean Council.

It is hoped that crossbreeding will occupy a minor place in the programmes of all three stations. While any crossbreeding suggested here is for commercial crossing, i.e. with slaughter of all F1 or back-cross lambs, it is very tempting for a farmer to be misled by the hybrid vigour in the cross and to continue to use the crossbred females for breeding in the hope that their superiority will be maintained. Genetical theory and past experience with wooled sheep in Barbados indicates that this is a forlorn hope.


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The decision to visit the Virgin Islands was based on the following extract “the dominant type seen over the Islands is still a white faced, white bodied sheep with a very light, fine, short fleece. A few sheep of this type have been seen on other islands and it has been assumed that they were the descendants of imported European breeds of sheep. These are similar to the white sheep seen on the British Virgin Islands which are also found in some numbers on St. Croix and in smaller numbers on St. Thomas …” (Faulkner, 1962).

U.S. Virgin Islands

The only published reference to sheep in the U.S. Virgin Islands reads as follows: “In the Virgin Islands, as almost throughout the West Indies, the principal breed is the West African wool-less sheep. This breed is so well adapted to our conditions, that it overcomes every attempt at cross-breeding, and after a few generations is back in essentially pure form, no matter what it has been crossed with.

“Our'native'sheep have two great advantages: 1) they almost always have 2, 3 or even 4 lambs at a time; and 2) they will breed at almost any time of the year and if well enough fed, will often bear 2 ‘litters’ a year.

“They also have a disadvantage: they are so slender that they don't produce much meat. First crosses with European breeds are meatier, but breed only once a year, and produce only single lambs (or very rarely twins). Their heavy wool keeps them too hot, and they grow slowly, and do not thrive ……

“A few years ago, one of four native ewes produced two litters of 4 lambs within a 12 month period. Obviously 8 thin lambs will carry more meat than 1 fat and chunky one, and probably even twin native lambs will outweigh the meatiest single that can be produced here. The Barbados Blackbelly, which is just a colour variation of our'native'breed, has been known to produce and raise 5 lambs at one birth!” (Bond, 1975).

The author's observations would support the conclusion of Bond that the White Virgin Island sheep is a hair sheep of West African origin related to other such populations in the Caribbean. It is sometimes called “Creole” which is confusing since most Creole (Criollo) populations elsewhere are wooled sheep.

According to the FAO Production Yearbook 1977 there should be 7,000 sheep in the British Virgin Islands and 4,000 in the US Virgin Islands. In St Croix there used to be about 3,000 sheep. Now they are reduced to 1,500 - 1,000 due to the depredations of dogs and drought. There are about four large flocks and the rest are on small holdings. The author visited five flocks whose sizes (breeding ewes) were 500, 100, 70, 14 and 10 respectively.

The typical local sheep is a white hair sheep polled in both sexes (see Plates 6 and 7). Pale tan-self colour or in patches-is a common variant. Occasional sheep are brown or brown with black belly or tricolor - brown and white with black belly. Some sheep have a little wool on the back. Any considerable amount (and also black face) is attributed to crossing with Suffolk in the recent past. The males have a throat ruff and a slightly convex facial profile. The tail hangs to the hocks. The ears are short and horizontal. The eyelids are black. The general impression is of a sheep with a better mutton conformation (less rangy) than the Barbados Blackbelly. Six ewes on one of the small farms averaged 63½ cm (range 59½-67) in height at wither which is actually lower than the Barbados sheep. On another farm a 16-month male weighed 150 lb.

Sheep are mostly grazed on rough pastures; the better managed flocks have access to improved pastures of Guinea or Pangola grass and may be given a grain supplement. They are brought back to pens at night to protect them from stray dogs and from theft.

The chief ailment is due to helminth worms. Drenching is a necessity - every 3 months is desirable; twice a year (after lambing) is the minimum. Footrot does not appear to be a problem. Boophilus ticks carrying Babesia were brought in from Texas in 1937 so exports have to be quarantined. Tetanus is also present.

Some breeders confirmed the observations of Bond (quoted above) that purebred temperate breeds do not survive and crossbreds have a high mortality. The chief cause of death is worms, especially in the lambs.

Ewes lamb first at 14 months of age and can lamb every 6 months thereafter. In the five flocks visited litter size (based on reports or actual number of lambs) averaged 1.4, 1.5, 1.0, 2.0 and 1.3 respectively. These figures were said to be lower than normal owing to drought in 1977.

Sheep production in St Croix is in decline. In the past St Croix had the reputation for a white, prolific breed of hair sheep. Now the sheep are said to be smaller in size, less fertile, more variable in colour and mixed with wool breeds. There is no organization for sheep breeding and marketing. There is no official campaign against the menace of predatory dogs. The small producer cannot guarantee a uniform supply so they sell to private consumers (especially Moslems) while the supermarkets are supplied by large scale imports of mutton from U.S.A. and New Zealand. Easter and Christmas are the commonest times for slaughter at ages of 6 and 9 months.

This lack of support for the pure breed is unfortunate since the White Virgin Island is the only hair breed for which the same high prolificacy as the Barbados Blackbelly is claimed. A programme of conservation, purebreeding and selection is urgently needed.

Virgin Island sheep have been exported from St Croix for a cooperative research programme at Utah State University, Logan; Florida State University, Gainesville; and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Centre, Wooster. The small flock at Wooster has exhibited a younger age at puberty than contemporary Barbados Blackbelly, a higher litter size at birth and a lower lamb mortality. The St Croix sheep are also heavier and have a higher growth rate (Parker, 1978).

The original 24 animals were obtained in 1975 and now the total flock at 4 locations (including Pomona, California) numbers about 20 adult and 20 young males 60 adult and 30 young females. All are white and polled. Adult males average 60-75 kg and females 40-55 kg. 18% of births are singles, 50% twins, 21% triplets and 5% quadruplets giving a prolificacy of 213% (Foote, 1979).

British Virgin Islands

David Smith (1979) writes as follows:

“It is doubtful whether there are more than 7,000 sheep in the B.V.I., at present, although it is extremely difficult to get accurate figures. On Tortola, itself, the average flock size is around 25. There are only, in fact, two farmers with flocks of over 100. Sheep are grazed mainly on the hills on guinea grass, pangola or local bush. No supplementary feed is fed except on very rare occasions. All animals are penned at night and killer dogs are our greatest problem. Worms were a major problem but, for the past year, I have been dosing all the sheep with Panacure. The results have been dramatic and lamb mortality has nearly disappeared. I am still waiting to hear from a laboratory in America as to the exact types and species of worms. I have seen no Boophilus ticks on the sheep, or goats for that matter while in the B.V.I.”

“I still believe that the white sheep must have some Wiltshire Horn in them. Horns are not uncommon in the rams on the island, at present, although they only develop to two or three inches.”

“….. the white sheep in the B.V.I. are expanding and I would expect that the whole of the national flock will be entirely white after five years although we still show signs of the Black Head and the Barbados Black Belly. The whites appear to breed true. In our own flock we have had only two offwhites in a three year period and this may have been caused by a ram-lamb. It is the Government's policy to encourage the production of sheep as there was a big decline when the tourist-oriented policy started in the late 1960s. The worming of the sheep is a free service and a guaranteed market for all stock produced is assured once the abattoir comes into operation, sometime towards the end of this year.”

“There are definitely two litters a year or at least five in three years. Our male breeding rams weigh between 180-190 pounds (80-85 kg). Our better ewes are now weighing 120 pounds (55 kg).”

Sale weights of 17 rams averaged 30 kg at 224 days of age. Weaning used to be at 4 months but is now 3 months; 10 ewes averaged 23 kg at an average weaning age of 118 days; a later group of 10 rams averaged 25 kg at an average weaning age of 109 days.

“The Department of Agriculture, here on Tortola, has for the last three years been trying to improve the Virgin Island White Sheep by selection…..”

“We have just imported two pedigree Wiltshire Horns from England and we are hoping to produce a lamb with better carcass conformation. We will decide from observation what form our management will follow. At present, we have our flocks divided into two, keeping one flock pure indigenous and the other with the Wiltshire Horn. The resultant crossbred ewes will be divided into two with one lot put onto the other Wiltshire ram and the other lot returned back to the indigenous. From this, we hope to discover whether the twinning and two litters a year factor are lost in the F2 cross.”

In a later letter it is reported that 87 lambs were born in 46 births giving an average litter size of 1.89 lambs per birth.

Katahdin breed

In 1957 Mr. Michael Piel of Abbot Village, Maine, imported one ram and two ewes (all triplets) from St Croix with the purpose of forming a new woolless meat breed. He crossed them with various British breeds but eventually discarded all crosses except those from the Suffolk. Later Wiltshire Horn blood was introduced. Intense selection for growth rate, mutton conformation and prolificacy and against wool and horns produced the Katahdin breed, named after the highest mountain in Maine (see Plates 8 and 9).

The Katahdin breed has a hairy coat with an undercoat of fine wool which is shed in spring. White is the commonest colour but “tan, brown, speckled, sprockle face, pie-bald, skewbald, roan and blackbelly occur”. Ninety percent of the animals are polled. The tail is 20-25 cm long. Mature weight of rams is 68-90 kg and of ewes 55-73 kg.

Ewes can be bred from the age of 6 months. They can breed round the year but in Maine they are bred to lamb during January to April. A fertility of 85 percent includes ewe lambs. Prolificacy is up to 200 percent for well fed adult ewes in good seasons. The average has been 168 percent for all ages and years. This is made up of 45 percent single births, 42.5 percent twin births, and 12.5 percent of triplet births (including one quadruplet set). Dystocia is very rare and newborn lambs thrive without assistance even in winter. Milk yield is sufficient for ewes to feed twins or triplets.

In 1976 the 76 ewes over one year old had 147 lambs surviving to be weaned at 90 days of age in early July. They averaged 19.5 kg in weight with a range from 26.7 kg for single ram lambs to 17 kg for triplet ewe lambs; twin ewe lambs averaged 18.9 kg.

Katahdins are good flocking sheep and they graze in a compact mass. They are not troubled by either high or low temperatures. They are resistant to internal parasites and external ones are non-existent (Schmiedlehner, 1979).


Bond, R.M., 1975. Small livestock for meat production in the Virgin Islands. In “Virgin Islands Agriculture and Food Fair. Feb. 15, 16, 17, 1975” (2pp).

Devendra, C., 1977. Sheep of the West Indies. World Review of Animal Production, 13:31–38.

Faulkner, D.E., 1962. Report on livestock development in the British Virgin Islands. Interim Commission of the West Indies, Port of Spain, Trinidad.

Foote, W.C., 1979. Personal communication to J. Rohl.

Parker, C.F., 1978. Personal communication.

Schmiedlehner, H., 1979. Personal communication.

Smith, Devid, 1979. Personal communication.

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