Southdown Sheep Society, NZ

"The sheep with an illustrious past and a very bright future"

The Southdown breed has seen many changes in ‘type’ over the years when responding to changing meat markets as can be seen in the type produced down the through the last 150 years of the breed’s existence in New Zealand, but one will soon see that while its type may have changed in size or shape, throughout this time the Southdown still retained three main characteristics;

• Early maturity
• Meat quality
• Placid easy-caring nature

Southdowns had first entered New Zealand in the early 1840s, and were most typical of down breeds of the day, with short fleeces, brownish faces and legs, long backs, and extremely well-developed and meaty hind-quarters and the animals matured very early. The Southdown also suited pioneering farmers because, due to its lifelong history of being penned it had an inherent tolerance to close confinement and was (and still is) docile and easy to handle.

Being a hardy breed it also suited those pioneering farmers because the Southdown could thrive and maintain its condition when other breeds would be hard put to survive and the added extra was that it passed on its superb conformation to its progeny.


The first New Zealand Southdown flock was founded by John Deans in 1863 (Kirkstyle) and included ewes descended from Jonas Webb’s flock.

Records show that the growth of stud flocks in New Zealand was steady but not spectacular in the 1800s, probably caused by a number of factors as the country of NZ was still only developing too, and looking at show results from the 1870s to 1910 the saying that “every dog has his day” comes to mind as different breeds of sheep found or lost favour, as can be seen by competition entry numbers but in all these shows there always appears to be Southdowns showing.

However, with the commencement of the refrigerated lamb trade in 1882, the Southdown became almost completely dominant as a fat lamb sire in New Zealand where Southdown rams were used over other breeds as the classical ‘terminal sire’ where all offspring mature early, grow fast and go for slaughter enabling farmers to produce ‘New Zealand lamb’ or ‘Canterbury lamb’ (so called because of the huge numbers of fat lambs produced on the Canterbury Plains of NZ).

With the growth of sheep numbers and hence ‘stud flocks’ a decision to create an association was made at a meeting of the 34 Agriculture and Pastoral districts with a 100% turn out in Wellington and from that meeting the ‘The New Zealand Sheepbreeders’ Association’ was officially founded on 28th May, 1894.

A code of rules was compiled and it was agreed that to be eligible for entry in the Flock Book the uninterrupted use of purebred sires was necessary since the year 1880 and also it had to be verified that the flock was reputed to be purebred at that date.

A Council was appointed for each Island and on the recommendation of the several A & P Associations, local inspecting Committees for each district were appointed. These Committees consisted of persons who were well informed as to the purity of the flocks in their districts and they were responsible for inspecting the flocks before admission. Flock owners were required to furnish certificates in verification of the facts stated and flocks were admitted into the original publication of the Flock Book in 1895 on the advice and approval of the local Committees.

Volume 1 contained the histories of 291 flocks of the following breeds – Lincoln (82), English Leicester (48), Border Leicester (67), Romney Marsh (51), Wensleydale (1), Cheviot (2), Cotswold (2), Southdown (5), Shropshire Down (18), Hampshire Down (1) and Merino (14).


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