Moorit Sheep Genetics

The Colour Genetics of Moorit Sheep: An Easy Explanation

Sheep come in a variety of colours, but one particularly fascinating and desirable colour is “moorit.” Moorit sheep have a rich, reddish-brown fleece, which is prized by breeders and fiber artists alike. I like to call them my chocolate sheep!

Understanding the genetics behind this beautiful colour can seem complicated, but it’s quite straightforward once you break it down. Here’s a simple explanation of the colour genetics of moorit sheep.

Moorit Ram Skippy
Golden Creek’s Skippy is a Moorit Coloured Miniature Ram

Basic Sheep Colour Genetics

To understand moorit colour genetics, it’s helpful to start with the basics of sheep colour genetics:

  1. Genes and Alleles: Genes are segments of DNA that determine various traits, including colour. Each gene can have different forms, called alleles. Sheep inherit one allele for each gene from each parent.
  2. Dominant and Recessive Alleles: Some alleles are dominant, meaning they will determine the trait even if only one copy is present. Others are recessive, meaning the trait will only show up if the sheep inherits two copies of the recessive allele, one from each parent.

The Agouti Locus and the Brown Gene

The primary genes involved in determining the colour of a sheep’s fleece are located at the Agouti locus and the Brown locus. These loci interact to produce different colours and patterns.

  1. Agouti Locus: This locus controls the distribution of black and white colours in the fleece. The alleles at the Agouti locus determine whether the sheep will have a solid colour or patterns like spots.
  2. Brown Locus: This locus is specifically important for moorit sheep. The Brown locus has two main alleles:
    • B: The dominant allele, which leads to black pigmentation.
    • b: The recessive allele, which results in brown pigmentation when the sheep has two copies (bb).

How Moorit Colour Appears

For a sheep to be moorit, it must have two copies of the recessive brown allele (bb) at the Brown locus. Here’s how it works:

  1. Genotype bb: A sheep with the genotype bb at the Brown locus will produce brown pigment instead of black. This brown pigment gives the fleece its distinctive moorit colour.
  2. Agouti Influence: Even though the Agouti locus influences patterns and the distribution of colour, the brown colour from the Brown locus will still be evident. If the sheep has alleles at the Agouti locus that would typically produce a solid colour, the result will be a solid moorit sheep. If the Agouti locus alleles produce a pattern, the sheep will have a pattern in shades of brown instead of black and white.

Simplified Example

Let’s consider two sheep:

  • Sheep A: Genotype Bb (one black allele, one brown allele)
  • Sheep B: Genotype bb (two brown alleles)

If Sheep A and Sheep B mate, their offspring could have the following combinations at the Brown locus:

  • BB: Black (unlikely since neither parent has two dominant black alleles)
  • Bb: Black (since the black allele is dominant)
  • bb: Moorit (since it has two recessive brown alleles)

Thus, there’s a 50% chance of getting moorit lambs from this pairing.


Moorit sheep have their beautiful brown fleece due to the inheritance of two recessive brown alleles (bb) at the Brown locus. While other genes, like those at the Agouti locus, influence patterns and distribution of colour, the key to the moorit colouration is the presence of these two brown alleles. Understanding these basic genetic principles can help breeders predict and achieve the desired moorit colouration in their flocks.

Miniature Rams – The Benefits of Using Small Studs

The Benefits of Using Miniature Rams Over Normal-Sized Ewes

For lifestyle block owners and sheep farming in general, the choice of using miniature rams over normal-sized ewes presents several compelling advantages. From enhanced safety for handlers to improved breeding efficiencies and reduced resource requirements, miniature rams are a viable and attractive option for modern sheep farmers.

This article delves into the multifaceted benefits of incorporating miniature rams into breeding programs, highlighting their impact on safety, management, and overall farm productivity.

Safety Benefits for Human Handlers

One of the primary benefits of using miniature rams is the enhanced safety for human handlers. Handling livestock can be hazardous, and larger animals obviously pose a greater risk of injury. Most sheep farmers are aware of how very dangerous some rams can be. People can get badly hurt and even killed by rogue rams.

Using Miniature rams will massively reduce the likelihood of accidents, due to their smaller size and often more docile nature.

Benefits of Using Miniature Rams
Miniature Sheep

Here are several key safety advantages:

Lower Risk of Aggression: Rams can be aggressive and very dangerous, particularly during breeding seasons. Miniature rams, due to their smaller stature, are less intimidating and easier to manage, reducing the potential for dangerous encounters.

Reduced Physical Strain: Managing normal-sized ewes and rams can be physically demanding. Miniature rams are lighter and easier to control, minimizing the risk of musculoskeletal injuries to handlers.

Ease of Transport and Handling: Moving and restraining miniature rams is simpler and safer compared to their larger counterparts. This ease of handling decreases the risk of injury during transport and routine management tasks, such as drenching, vaccinations and hoof trimming.

Economic and Operational Benefits

Beyond the safety aspects, miniature rams offer several economic and operational benefits that can enhance the efficiency and sustainability of your lifestyle block operations.

Lower Feed and Space Requirements: Miniature rams consume less feed and require less space than normal-sized rams. This translates to significant cost savings in terms of feed, housing, and pasture management.

Efficient Breeding Programs: Miniature rams can be strategically used in breeding programs to produce smaller, more manageable offspring. This is particularly beneficial for farms focused on producing lambs for niche markets, such as petting zoos or small-scale fiber production.

Adaptability to Diverse Environments: Miniature rams and their offspring are often more adaptable to a variety of environments, including smaller farms and urban farming settings where space is limited. Their smaller size makes them ideal for these non-traditional farming contexts.

Environmental and Ethical Considerations

The use of miniature rams also aligns with growing environmental and ethical considerations in agriculture.

Reduced Environmental Footprint: Smaller livestock have a lower environmental impact, producing less methane and requiring fewer resources. This contributes to more sustainable farming practices and reduces the overall carbon footprint of livestock operations.

Ethical Animal Treatment: Managing miniature rams can lead to better animal welfare outcomes. Their smaller size makes it easier to provide appropriate care, reducing stress and improving overall health and well-being.

Compatibility with Organic and Small-Scale Farming: Miniature rams are well-suited for organic and small-scale farming systems, which prioritize sustainability and animal welfare. Their manageable size and reduced resource needs fit well with the principles of these farming models.

Read about using miniature sheep in orchards


Incorporating miniature rams into your lifestyle property offers numerous advantages that extend beyond safety for human handlers. From economic efficiencies and operational benefits to environmental sustainability and ethical considerations, miniature rams present a compelling case for modern livestock management. As the agricultural industry continues to evolve, the use of miniature rams could become an increasingly popular choice among farmers seeking to enhance safety, reduce costs, and promote sustainable farming practices.

Miniature Sheep in Orchards for Sustainable Farming

Miniature Spotted Sheep in Orchard

Sheep Offer Ewe-nique Benefits:

In the area of sustainable agriculture, farmers are continually exploring innovative and eco-friendly practices to enhance productivity while minimizing environmental impact. One such unconventional yet highly effective method involves the integration of miniature sheep into orchards and vineyards.

These pint-sized grazers offer a host of benefits that contribute to the overall health and productivity of orchards. In this article, we will delve into the various reasons why miniature sheep are gaining popularity among orchard owners as an environmentally conscious and practical solution.

Miniature Spotted Sheep in Orchard

1. Sheep for Natural Weed Control

One of the primary advantages of incorporating miniature sheep into orchards and vineyards is their exceptional ability to control grass and weeds. Mini sheep are enthusiastic grazers, and their small size allows them to navigate through orchard rows with ease, without doing damage to the trees. As they graze, they target unwanted vegetation, effectively managing weed growth without the need for chemical herbicides.

This not only reduces the environmental impact but also minimizes the competition for nutrients and water between the weeds and the fruit trees, promoting the overall health of the orchard ecosystem.

2. Fertilization via Sheep Manure

Miniature sheep contribute to orchard fertility through their natural fertilization process. As they graze, they deposit nutrient-rich manure throughout the orchard. The manure serves as an organic fertilizer, improving soil biota, enhancing soil fertility and providing essential nutrients to the fruit trees.

Unlike synthetic fertilizers, which can have negative environmental implications, the use of miniature sheep manure promotes a sustainable and closed-loop system within the orchard.

3. Grazing Management and Orchard Maintenance

Miniature sheep are well-suited for orchard environments due to their manageable size and gentle nature. Orchard and vineyard owners can implement rotational grazing systems, strategically moving the sheep from one area to another. This controlled grazing helps prevent overgrazing in specific sections of the orchard, allowing vegetation to regrow naturally.

Additionally, the constant movement of miniature sheep helps greatly in orchard floor management, preventing the buildup of debris and fallen fruit that could attract pests and diseases.

Sheep Grazing in Orchards

4. Browsing Behavior – Natural Pest Control:

Beyond weed control, miniature sheep also engage in browsing behavior, nibbling on shrubs, low-hanging branches, and fallen fruit. This behavior helps in reducing potential hiding spots for pests and keeps the orchard tidy.

By consuming fallen fruit, miniature sheep play a role in pest management, as certain pests and diseases often breed in decaying fruit on the orchard floor. This proactive approach to pest control reduces the need for chemical interventions, promoting a healthier and more sustainable orchard environment.

5. Stress-Free Low Pruning

Pruning is an essential practice in orchard management, promoting better air circulation, sunlight exposure, and overall tree health. Miniature sheep contribute to stress-free pruning by naturally nibbling at low-hanging branches and excess foliage. This reduces the workload for orchard owners and eliminates the need for mechanical pruning of low branching, which can be labor-intensive and environmentally impactful.

The symbiotic relationship between miniature sheep and fruit trees creates a harmonious balance that benefits both the orchard and its caretakers.

6. Mini Sheep for Soil Health and Erosion Prevention

Miniature sheep play a crucial role in maintaining soil health within orchards and vineyards. Their gentle hoof action helps aerate the soil, promoting better water infiltration and reducing compaction. This is particularly important for orchards where heavy machinery might cause soil damage.

Additionally, the constant movement of miniature sheep prevents soil erosion by reducing surface runoff and promoting the development of a healthy ground cover. As a result, orchard soils remain fertile, structurally sound, and resilient to environmental stressors.

7. Biodiversity Enhancement

The introduction of miniature sheep into orchards contributes to the enhancement of biodiversity. These small grazers create micro-habitats within the orchard, attracting beneficial insects and other wildlife. The diverse ecosystem that emerges supports natural predators of orchard pests, such as spiders, ladybugs, and predatory beetles.

By fostering a balanced and biodiverse environment, orchard owners can reduce their reliance on chemical pesticides, creating a more sustainable and resilient agricultural system.


In conclusion, the integration of miniature sheep into orchards and vineyards offers a multifaceted approach to sustainable farming. From natural weed control and fertilization through manure to stress-free pruning and pest management, these compact grazers bring a plethora of benefits to orchard ecosystems.

By embracing this eco-friendly and innovative solution, orchard owners can not only enhance the productivity and health of their fruit trees but also contribute to the broader goal of sustainable agriculture. As we continue to explore novel and environmentally conscious practices, miniature sheep stand out as valuable partners in cultivating healthy, vibrant orchards for a greener future.

Read about the Benefits of Using Miniature Rams over Normal Size Ewes

Babydoll Sheep

Historic Southdown Sheep

Olde English Southdown (Babydoll Sheep) Breed History

Earliest Beginnings

The Southdown is one of England’s oldest breeds. Regarded as the original heartland sheep of south-east England this breed can be traced back to the South Down hills of Sussex county, England. To improve this stock, a breeding program was put in place in the late eighteenth century (around 1780) by John Ellman of Glynde in Sussex and later by Jonas Webb of Babraham, near Cambridge.

Olde English Southdown Sheep1949 in the UK
Olde English Southdown Sheep 1949 in the UK

Origins and Decline in the United States

It is believed that the breed reached the United States in 1803. Their popularity grew and later declined in nearly the same pattern that had occurred in England. The small Southdown could not serve the consumer demand for larger meat cuts. This was a significant factor in the development and mass production of the larger, leggier Southdown of today. This divergence from the original breed standards was the beginning of what would later become two distinct lines: The Southdown and the miniature (or original) Southdown. In breeding for these larger characteristics however, many of the original “miniature” attributes were bred out and nearly lost. Each year brought a further decline in the number of these “original” Southdowns.

Historic Southdown Sheep

Decline in England

In England, these small Southdowns grew in popularity up until 1908 when there were approximately 367 registered flocks totaling about 110,000 ewes. The growth in this breeds’ development slowed in the early 1900’s as World War I brought a sharp decline in their numbers. By the end of the World War II, the demand for larger cuts of meat had almost forced the breed into extinction.

Southdowns Launceston Show 1931

American Rediscovery

In 1986, Robert Mock began a search for miniature sheep that conformed to the original Southdowns of the 1700’s. However, finding them proved to be difficult. At one point they were believed to be extinct. After a four-year search, two small flocks totaling 26 sheep were located; however, this group would not be able to provide a sustainable gene pool. After an extensive search, a total of 350 of these miniature sheep were located. Many of them still carried their original Southdown registration papers.

Babydoll Sheep Registration

To distinguish these small sheep from the larger modern-era Southdown, Mr. Mock named them Olde English “Babydoll” Southdowns. To keep this line pure, a registration was formed. Only adults two years and older were accepted so that they could be judged against the original conformation standards as verified by a veterinarian. Each sheep’s registration application was passed before a board of three members of the Breed Association. After this initial review and acceptance period, the “Foundation Flock” registry was closed in 1991. The term Foundation Flock is still used to refer to this original pool of sheep. Subsequently, the process of registering lambs from this original foundation flock began.

Golden Creek Babydoll Sheep 5

General Appearance

While all “Babydolls” are Southdowns, not all Southdowns are “Babydolls”. The modern-day Southdown is a much larger sheep, while the Babydolls are 24 inches or less at the shoulder when shorn as adults, with many of them in the 18 to 22 inch range. Adults weigh 70 to 150 pounds. Both sexes are polled (without horns); however, horn buds do appear, especially in black rams. These should never be more than 1/2 to 1 inch long. They are not a registration-disqualifying attribute. The sheep should have a fairly flat face with a mouth that appears to be smiling. They have round heads and very short little ears. They become very wooly and take on the appearance of teddy bears when in full coat. Occasionally the sheep need to have the wool trimmed from around their eyes so that they do not become “wool blind”.

General Breed Description

Babydoll Sheep Anatomy.jpg


Head Wide and level between the
ears with no sign of slug or dark poll in the whites
Face Full, not too long from eyes
to nose and of one even color
Eyes Large, bright and prominent
Ears Medium size and covered with
short wool
Neck Wide at the base and will
set to the shoulder
Size Must be 24 inches or under
when shorn, measured straight up the front leg to the top of
the shoulder. Lambing without difficulty is one of the
qualities of a Babydoll; therefore, ewes under 18 inches are
Shoulders Well set, at top level with
the back
Chest Wide and deep
Carriage Corky legs, short, straight,
set on the outside of the body
Ribs Well sprung and well ribbed
up, thick through the heart with fore and hind flanks fully
Rump Wide and long
Tail Large and set almost level
with the chin
Legs Full, well let down with a
deep wide twist (including thighs)
Wool Of fine texture, great
density and of sufficient length, staple, covering the whole
of the body down to the hocks and knees, and right up to the
cheeks, with a foretop, but not around the eyes or across
the bridge of the nose.
Back Level with a wide flat loin



Golden Creek Babydoll Sheep & Lamb 3


Babydolls come in both white, the predominant color, and black (a recessive gene which is considered rare). There is also a light brown and spotted, as shown in their history, but none of these were registered in the Foundation Flock. Today blacks are still considered rare but there is a fair number registered. Also, there is a movement to expand / reintroduce the presence of the spotted. Early on in their development, colors were discouraged in favor of a uniform color in the shearing process. These genes have, however, cropped up from time to time and are valued by some as a delightful variation to be further developed. It is not a disqualifying trait in the registration, which now accepts dilute black, grays and chocolate.

The breed standard calls for the animal to be covered with wool over the whole body, down the hocks and knees and over most of the face; however, hock, face and belly wool is lost in the shearing, skirting and carding process. Babydoll is considered a fine, dense wool. It has a 19 to 22 micron count (average fiber diameter), with a medium crimp. It grades about 55 to 60. The grease fleece can range from 4 to 7 pounds. The 12-month staple is two to three inches long. It has more barbs per inch than any other wool type. This makes it very attractive for blending with alternative fibers such as angora, mohair or alpaca. Also, this barb count makes it is well suited to hand spinning.

Neil Holt & Grand Champion Southdown Lamb, 1940. Texas A&M University Archive


The Babydoll is a mostly a docile breed. They are polled (do not have horns) in both sexes. An occasional foot stomp is the extent of their display, although there are always exceptions. They are a calm breed, making them easy to handle – particularly for less experienced shepherds and children. Babydolls can be easily trained to hand feed or flock to a desired area on command. Some have even been leashed trained. They have a strong herding instinct and do not wander. They do not challenge fence lines and are easy to keep contained. Generally docile Babydolls provide a calming and flocking effect on other breeds of sheep

Golden Creek Babydoll Lamb 1


Babydolls require less acreage per animal than the full sized breeds and therefore do well on smaller pastures and in suburban settings. Because of their comparatively shorter legs, they are not ideal station sheep.

  • Pets: Because of their size and temperament, Babydolls are the perfect size for petting zoos, 4H’s projects, the school fair etc.
  • Organic Weeders: Being grass grazers, they do not tend girdle (eat the bark off of) trees or shrubs as many other breeds do. This makes them ideally suited to suburban settings. Babydolls also do well in vineyards, orchards and berry farms – where they leave the area well groomed and fertilise the soil as they graze.
  • Wool: Handspinners find this an ideal source of wool – either as a stand- alone mini-flock or as an addition to an existing flock. They associate well with goats and can be used by the handspinner who also keeps angora goats.
  • Companions: Babydolls also make excellent companions for other animals because of their calm temperament. When introduced to other breeds of sheep, they can provide a greater flocking instinct and a general calming effect. This can be valuable when dealing with sheep that have been handled less frequently or tend to be a “skittish breed”.

Click here for the list of Miniature Sheep Breeders in New Zealand