Southdown Sheep Society, NZ

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

Standard of Excellence of a Southdown


The role of the Southdown breed in New Zealand is to supply rams for mating with ewes of a number of breeds and crosses to produce lambs for local and overseas consumers. The progeny of Southdown rams grow rapidly and comply with the modern requirements within the meat industry at all weights.

The Southdown breed has contributed substantially to the export meat trade. New Zealand’s reputation, as the major international trader in lamb, has been made through the use of the Southdown ram. The demand for the Southdown cross lamb is likely to remain high because of its size, muscle development and meat quality.


A Southdown sheep is uniquely different from any other breed. It is characterised by its body shape and size, wool type, head shape and face and leg colour.

The animal should move actively and boldly with its head held above the line of the back. The sheep should be alert as noted in its eyes, movement of its head and ears, its stance and its locomotion. The ram should be distinctly masculine in appearance and action and the ewe should be refined and distinctly feminine.

Head – The head should be moderately wide, with no sign of horn or dark poll, have a strong jaw with the incisor teeth meeting the dental pad correctly. The face covering should be such that at no time can the sheep be woolblind. The eyes should show alertness and the ears should be of medium thickness and size.

Forequarters – The forearms should be thick and meaty. The shoulders should be well set but with sufficient angle to allow free movement. The forelegs should not be set too wide apart nor the brisket carried forward prominently as these indicate waste. A thick, short neck should be avoided as should a long thin neck.

Back and Loin – The back should be long. The loin should be rounded and covered with an optimum amount of fat. By handling the loin and rack regions it should be possible to distinguish sheep with a well-developed “eye” of the chop.

Hindquarters – The hindquarters should be wide at a point midway between the tail and the hocks. Depth at the crutch is required only if it is due to muscling. The tail setting should be relatively high. The rump should not be too wide and flat as width and flatness across the rump indicate excessive fatness. The pinbones should be wide apart.

Size – The modern Southdown should be long, not too deep in the body, heavy in weight with well developed muscling and free from excess fat. Performance recording and selecting sires and replacement ewes for weight at weaning and later should encourage the genetic development of larger Southdowns with less fat.

Legs and Feet – The hind legs should be set well apart and the joints of the four legs should be free from defects. The feet preferably should be black in colour, and the pasterns well sprung. Short legs should be avoided as these sheep produce fatter carcases than those with longer legs.

External Reproductive Organs – The testicles, sheath and penis of the ram should be well developed and free from defects. The testicles should not hang too low nor should they be held close to the body. The udder should be sufficiently large but not pendulous in the lactating ewe.

Fleece and Skin – The fleece should be dense and fine and of approximately 23-28 microns. Hairiness in the fleece should be avoided. The colour of the fibres of the face and legs should be light, mousey grey and there should not be any black spots or patches anywhere in the fleece or on the face, ears or legs. The skin should be pink in colour.


The modern Southdown must produce meaty, lean, early maturing lambs when mated to a variety of breeds and crosses of ewes. The forequarters, back, loin and hindquarters should each be muscular and free from excessive fat. Excessive width or flatness across the topline, or too great a depth of body indicate an animal which is too fat.

The major emphasis in selecting and breeding Southdown sheep must be on meatiness or muscling, an absence of excessive fat in any part of the body and a concentration of producing high quality meat in the more desirable and expensive cut areas of the carcase.(Revised description of the Southdown Sheep, 1988).