My little sheep are the reason I wrote Storey’s Guide to Raising Miniature Livestock. Before we moved to the Ozarks, I helped a friend in Minnesota tend her sheep. Her first flock consisted of full-size Cheviots and the second, Jacobs. They were lovely sheep, but a handful to handle for doctoring, hoof trims and shearing.
So, in 2003 when I decided I’d like to raise sheep, I knew I wanted a fairly small breed. I admired my friend’s Cheviots, so when I heard of a woman disbanding her flock of Miniature Cheviots (in favor of alpacas) I thought, “That’s for me!”
I bought her best, middle-aged ewe, Brighton Ridge Farms #59 “Baasha,” and a weanling ram. It turned out to be the wisest purchase of my life. Now, though Baasha is gone, virtually all of my sheep are her descendants (visit my Dreamgoat Annie website and click on Sheep to see them). Baasha is honored as a foundation ewe by the newly formed American Classic Cheviot Sheep Association.
Cheviots are an ancient British breed. In 1372, historical record refers to a “small, but very hardy” race of sheep grazing the bleak Cheviot Hills between Scotland and England.
The first Cheviots came to America in the 1840s when Thomas Laidler, a shepherd on the Cheviot Hills, sent each of his four children living in New Lisborn, New York, three Cheviot sheep.
Various breeds of Cheviots evolved during the nineteenth century including the North Country Cheviot of northern Scotland, the Brecknock Hill Cheviot of Wales, and Wicklow Cheviot of northern Scotland. The original Cheviot, however, was the intrepid Border Cheviot, the direct ancestor of Classic and Miniature Cheviot sheep.
Many sheep (including my own) are dual-registered. The Classic registry emphasizes historic Cheviot type and traits and the Miniature registry, petite size. Both are to Border Cheviots as Babydoll Southdown sheep are to old-fashioned British Southdowns – they are the original breed as it existed before it was selectively bred by modern meat producers for longer legs and larger cuts of meat.
Miniature and Classic sheep are longer than they are tall; Classics are 18 to 24 inches tall at newly shorn withers. They are naturally polled and come in white, dilute black (resulting in silvers, grays, tans, and mottled patterns) and (occasionally) spotted; many blacks have flashy white facial markings. They are wide and sturdy with perky, upright ears; big, dark eyes; and handsomely convex facial profiles. Cheviot faces and legs are haired instead of wooled and their soft, spongy, low-grease, 28-32 micron fleeces don’t pick up a lot of debris. They are extremely easy keepers and browse as well as graze. Ewes are attentive, milky mothers that lamb with ease and usually produce twins. Best, like other breeds of miniature livestock, it’s easy to work with these little sheep.
Other miniature sheep breeds include Babydoll Southdowns, Shetlands, Soay, and Ouessants, all of which I describe in Storey’s Guide to Raising Miniature Livestock. But I’m sold on my little sheep. Breeders will have lambs available soon – maybe you need some too!