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An English breed of sheep, belonging to the "Downs" group that also includes Shropshire's, Hampshire's, Oxford's and Suffolk's - the Southdown is the smallest and oldest of these breeds (weighing about 135-155 pounds when fully mature) and for centuries supplied the country with lamb and mutton and also wool - which was exported to the looms of Flanders and Italy and the worsted mills of Britain itself.
The fleece is short and light, reaching far down the leg and over the face, giving the animal a 'teddy bear' look. The head and legs are light mousse brown in colour.
Oxfords are the largest of the group, coming in at over 230 pounds. The breeds are popular in the U.S.A producing meat of much better quality and less dryness than Spanish "Merino" sheep (more suitable for producing wool in hard conditions), reared by the early settlers.
However, the breed has seriously declined in popularity in Britain, partly because its home territory (the Downs, between Shoreham in the west and Beachy Head, near Eastbourne. The breed's popularity has also suffered from the fact that dairy farming has become more profitable.
There are estimated to be about 1,600 breeding ewes, and the breed is protected by its own society. This can be contacted at - Southdown Lodge, 300 Cople Road, Cardington, Bedford, MK44 3SH. Tel: 01234-838807, and has its own wedsite: www.southdownsheepsociety.co.uk . email: firstname.lastname@example.org See 'Rare Breeds Survival Trust'