Barbados Blackbelly Sheep

What Is The History Of Barbados Blackbelly Sheep?

Barbados Blackbelly sheep combine the rare attributes of adaptation to tropical environments and high reproductive efficiency, which account for their average of two lambs litter and an average lambing interval of 8 to 9 months.

Barbados Blackbelly sheep may be of African ancestry but there is compelling historical evidence which suggests that as a breed it originated and evolved in Barbados from crosses of African hair sheep and European wooled breeds of unknown origin, also suggested that the Barbados Blackbelly sheep is of West African origin introduced into the region via Brazil in the seventeenth century, by the Spaniards and Portuguese. They are closely related to the Cuban hairy and Brazilian woolless breeds.

What Is The Characteristics Of Barbados Blackbelly Sheep?

  • Barbados Blackbelly sheep are covered with hair that ranges in colour from light brown to dark reddish brown.  
  • They have black bellies (under surfaces), with black points on the face and legs.
  • The face sometimes has two whitish lines running down from the forehead to the nose.
  • In general appearance these sheep resemble small hornless Jersey cattle or deer.
  • They are decidedly 'leggy' but have fairly deep bodies and well sprung ribs.
  • There is a fair width of back and loin, but a very deficient hindquarter.
  • There is a slight tendency to a Roman nose, specially in the ram.
  • Occasionally rams are scurred and even less often carry small bluish-grey horns that grow up to only half a spiral.
  • The hair of the body averages about 2.5 cm long and in texture resembles that of the goat.
  • The male carries a throat ruff and a well-developed mane of hair from 10 to 15 cm long.
  • In comparison with typical mutton breeds, these sheep differ in that they are much more narrow-bodied, long-necked, long-legged and angular.
  • Weaning weights and subsequent growth rates are usually less than other mutton breeds, but at maturity, well-fed, well grown Barbados Blackbelly rams can weigh between 68-90 kg and mature ewes between 40-59 kg.
  • In Barbados the typical farmer would have sheep with weights nearer the lower end of these ranges. Adults measure approximately 60 - 65cm at withers and both rams and ewes are polled. 

What Is The Litter Size Of Barbados Blackbelly Sheep?

Barbados Blackbelly sheep are now being widely considered as one of the leading breeds in the world for the trait of high prolificacy; other such breeds include Booroola Merino, Finnish Landrace and the Russian Romanov.

The Barbados Blackbelly sheep is very prolific, usually 1 to 4 lambs per lambing, but litters of five or more lambs are sometimes produced. The ewes have a well-developed mammary system and breeds at any time of year with twice per year lambing being possible with good management.

Annual lambing rate is above 150%.

The breed is found throughout the Caribbean and as far as the southern states of the USA.  Litter size ranges from 1 to 5 with an average of 1.83 and with 13.5% of all litters having three or more lambs. Litter size at weaning is between 1.5 and 1.9 while length of gestation is 150 days.

Average birth weight of lambs ranges from 2.1 to 3.8 kg with higher weights for single births and lower weights for multiple births.

Barbados Blackbelly ewes in Tobago had a markedly higher percentage of multiple births, including 11 litters of quadruplets and 4 litters of quintuplets in 1977.

In Jamaica 1982, a Barbados Blackbelly ewe had 10 lambings in 60 months which was the maximum lambings per ewe recorded.

Another ewe had 14 lambs in five litters over a period of 27 months.

Mortality rates are highest in lambs during the first week after birth, due mainly to low birth weights especially among multiple births.

Barbados Blackbelly ewes do not produce enough milk to raise more than two lambs, even under good management.

Picture: Eubank Acres Barbados Blackbelly Sheep Farm

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