The Black Diamond Flock
The Barbados Blackbelly breed was developed on the West Indies island of Barbados in the 17th century. They were first imported into the US in 1904 but were often crossed with other breeds. Then, in 1970, a small number of pure-bred island sheep were imported to North Carolina State University. Sheep from this importation became the foundation for pure island-type Barbados Blackbelly sheep in the United States. A large research flock is owned by Virginia State University while the former North Carolina State University flock was sold in 1996 to a private breeder. A small group of dedicated breeders continue to grow the numbers of the breed across the country.
The sheep are considered prolific, disease resistant and parasite tolerant. They are also somewhat slow-maturing, with rams averaging 120 lbs and ewes averaging 92 lbs at two years of age. Gestation is roughly 5 months. Blackbelly ewes are excellent mothers who rarely require assistance. Rams may breed as early as 4 months of age and are diligent sires to their harem. Although the breed was once considered endangered, it is now listed as “Recovering” by the Livestock Conservancy. Even though the Barbados sheep may have small scurs or knots on their brow, they should not be confused with American Blackbellies who have large horns and are often used for stocking hunt clubs.
Blackbellies are hair sheep who do not need to be sheared. They grow a long winter hair coat with a very fine undercoat of wool that the animals “rub” off each spring. They will seek shelter on windy, rainy days but their coats protect them, even on the iciest January days at the farm. The sheep also adapt easily back to their tropical roots, relaxing in the shade around noon, but grazing morning and evening on the most humid days of our Carolina summers.
The Black Diamond flock includes genetics from several of the original conservators of the breed, including bloodlines from North Carolina, Virginia, Missouri and Oregon. Most of them go back to a ram named Goliath who was an established sire in the late 1990’s. We have three herd sires – Harley, Starbucks (a son of our original sire Zeus) and Mercedes, a wide-built, extremely thick sire we are looking forward to using this fall. We have also focused on incorporating the “R” (scrapie resistant )gene into our flock and will soon have a number of animals who will be homozygous “R” by pedigree. You can learn more about our sheep at Barbados Blackbelly.org (https://www.blackbellysheep.org) We sometimes offer small starter flocks (a ram and several unrelated ewes) to anyone interested in having their own flock of sheep.
Barbados Blackbelly meat is mild-flavored and lean, low in fat and cholesterol but high in protein. Our sheep graze native grass pastures through spring and summer supplemented with a locally blended high protein ration with free-choice minerals. They also receive locally grown hay in the winter and during times of drought. Lambs are harvested between 9 and 11 months of age at a local, family-owned processor.