Babydolls breed passion in Pinjarra

Babydolls breed passion in Pinjarra

Life & Style
Pinjarra couple Deborah and Jeffery Royans, of Tanjar Babydoll Southdown stud, have been breeding Babydoll sheep for over a decade.

Pinjarra couple Deborah and Jeffery Royans, of Tanjar Babydoll Southdown stud, have been breeding Babydoll sheep for over a decade.

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The small, easy kept animal was imported from England over 200 years ago, boasting superior yield, early maturity and prime lambing producing qualities.

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THEY are renowned for their woollen face, teddy bear smile, miniature stature and docile disposition.

So for many people, the thought of the 'adorable' Babydoll Southdown being classed as a flavourful meat sheep would be one difficult to stomach.

The small, easy kept animal was imported from England over 200 years ago, boasting superior yield, early maturity and prime lambing producing qualities.

Today, the ewes and wethers are desired as pets, lawn mowers and weed eaters - as opposed to sheep meat - and are typically sold to lifelong homes.

Pinjarra couple Deborah and Jeffery Royans, of Tanjar Babydoll Southdown stud, have been breeding Babydolls for over a decade.

From humble beginnings, the couple recently celebrated success, as the first registered, purebred, coloured Babydoll sheep breeder in Australia and the first to sell the coloured Babydoll internationally.

Before the Royans founded Tanjar they were just "normal townies" who owned a general store at Singleton.

"We were sick of it and wanted a change," Ms Royans said.

"I had been waiting my whole life to get onto a property.

"So we moved to Pinjarra, where we purchased a small acreage and a few crossbred sheep - I absolutely loved it.

"Progressively we bought bigger and bigger land, and I loved it more and more."

Moving to 23 hectares of farming land on the green pastures of Pinjarra, the Royans were presented with a "blank canvas".

The property had no fences or livestock.

With a desire to carry on farming, Ms Royans started to research what kind of sheep she could breed.

She knew what she wanted - they had to be small, easy to handle and something she could deal with, without needing her husband's help.

"I wanted something unique and that I could show," Ms Royans said.

"I had Merinos and crossbred sheep, but they were quite big and I was finding it difficult to do all the work by myself.

"I looked for a smaller breed of sheep and one that was a stud, so I could become a registered breeder."

Ms Royans searched Australia wide until she found a breed, which caught her eye - the Babydoll Southdown.

She purchased her first ram and two ewes from Victoria in 2010, not knowing Tanjar would evolve to become the successful breeding business it is today.

"When I first started selling in 2011, there were probably only about three breeders in Australia that were calling them Babydolls," Ms Royans said.

"They had no official title, Babydoll was a marketing name, but it wasn't a registered name.

"Since then it has sprung up to over 30 registered breeders and is recognised as a very popular breed with large waiting lists."

The Southdown Babydoll was known only as the Southdown up until recent years.

The small, easy kept animal boasting superior yield, early maturity and prime lambing producing qualities was imported from England more than 200 years ago.

The small, easy kept animal boasting superior yield, early maturity and prime lambing producing qualities was imported from England more than 200 years ago.

It is the oldest of English down breeds, famed for its mutton derived from flocks that grazed on the South Down Plains of Sussex County England.

With the arrival of refrigeration, larger meat carcases were desired and the smaller sheep were crossed with bigger sheep to produce a larger animal.

During the change from the small compact Southdown to the large modern Southdown, a few studs continued to breed with the small bloodlines and the Babydoll breed survived.

In 2016, the Australian All Breeds Miniature Goat and Sheep Society (which Ms Royans is a member of) was approached and the Babydoll breed was added to its miniature sheep branch.

Ms Royans found the Babydoll has made a huge comeback in her time as a breeder with demand for the animal skyrocketing.

"People are looking for something small and cute to keep on a smaller acreage," she said.

"Meanwhile, vineyards and wineries are looking for sheep that aren't as tall and have trouble standing on their back legs, so they can graze them in the vines.

"We have actually sold to a lot of wineries and also people working in tourism.

"Interest is generally broken up between stud breeders, wineries, vineyards, accommodation and the pet market.

"Babydolls are short, short necked, short legged and have very woolly faces, which is what the buyers and breeders want."

Babydolls range anywhere between 43 to 62 centimetres in height and 50 to 70 kilograms in weight for ewes.

Meanwhile, the rams weigh about 75 to 100kg.

Over the years Tanjar have managed to breed them down in size and much of the herd has downsized compared to those the property bred eight years ago.

Ms Royans said she had been breeding them down in height to suit the buyer's demand for a miniature animal.

She said Tanjar had completed three separate artificial insemination programs with the semen stored at breed centres in the area.

Semen was stored from their ram Spot, who was the first Australian champion Babydoll Southdown in Australia.

He is now retired and out to spell on the farm.

"We have imported about 10 breeders over the past 10 to 11 years from Victoria and New South Wales," Ms Royans said.

"Currently we have 65 registered purebred Babydolls and the rest of the sheep are made up of appendix breeding."

As the Babydoll is a British breed they come into season from March to June when the days are shorter.

For the first time, Tanjar gave its ewes a Regulin implant this year.

The melatonin implant "tricks the ewes" into believing the days are shorter and brings them into oestrus sooner.

"This year we bred in February," Ms Royans said.

"We are hoping the lambs will arrive a month earlier, so they are a month older when they go onto the truck in October.

"We currently have a standing arrangement with a trucking company that we send sheep interstate, mid October every year."

Ms Royans said at lambing time, as the ewes are very fertile, docile and easy lambers, it is quite common to see a significant number of twins in the flock.

The 20 ewes in the first lot of implants are about three weeks off lambing.

"We usually have about 70-80 lambs, so numbers can swell up at certain times," Ms Royans said.

"We has had lots of twins, we usually get 20 to 25 sets of twins each year."

Tanjar have picked up a variety of different markets over time, with more and more breeders willing to have a registered stud.

Currently they are working in partnership with a breeder in Queensland.

What Ms Royans prides herself in most is that, after a decade, she has finally developed the first, registered purebred Coloured Babydoll Southdown in Australia.

But it was not a straightforward or easy process.

"The colouring is what we are really passionate about," Ms Royans said.

"So there are off-white Babydolls, which are just plain white and are normal purebreds.

"Then there are the coloured ones, which the rest of the appendix are made up of.

"We took the coloured ewe of a different breed for example a Dorper, Romney or Corriedale, whether she was purebred or not.

"We breed that one back to a purebred, off-white, registered Babydoll white ram and if she has a coloured ewe lamb we will keep it.

"That is an F1 or Grade D Babydoll.

"Then we breed back again to a purebred, keep the lambs and breed back and back.

"We do that until we get the fourth or fifth generation away from the first original crossbred ewe that we started off with - that's Grade A."

Through this process, Tanjar has managed to breed black Babydolls, which can sunbleach to brown.

Once they reached Grade A and purebred, the animals were inspected and registered to ensure they passed the breeding standards.

Standards include reaching a height of 43 to 62cm, having a short neck, short legs and meaty bodies.

They need to be short between the eyes and the nose, have broad nostrils and ears level with the Poll.

"We tried to get the best genetics we could in WA," Ms Royans said.

"It is quite a rare breed, there aren't a lot of unrelated genetics, unless we import from overseas.

"We can use the modern Southdown being the same breed, but they are very tall and you have to breed out those breed traits.

"That takes quite a few years, especially if you keep getting rams because you can't use them."

Southdown Babydoll sheep are renowned for their woollen face, teddy bear smile, miniature stature and docile disposition.

Southdown Babydoll sheep are renowned for their woollen face, teddy bear smile, miniature stature and docile disposition.

Ms Royan's work and research in sourcing the best genetics paid off when she won many ribbons from 2013- 2015 at the Perth Royal show and continues to compete with success at agricultural shows including Harvey, Kelmscott and Brunswick.

They now offer a ewe with lambs at foot for the Heritage breed display at the Perth Royal show and have done since 2016.

Her next project is to develop other coloured and spotted Babydolls.

To breed a spotted Babydoll, Ms Royans would start off with a patched foundation ewe.

"It is a long process because every ram we have, we wether," Ms Royans said.

"So if the ewe has a ram that year, that's another year we are not moving forward.

"We only keep the coloured ewe lambs and only if they meet the breed type we want to achieve when we get to the end process.

"To get the other colours in would be the next goal and with the off-whites it would be to continue breeding as best we can."

Ms Royans said she hoped they could eventually use the colour of their Moorit ewe in their purebreds, so eventually they had white, black, red, spotted and black and white patched.

"The only time the animal is registered as a purebred is when it has met the standards of an inspection with all of the classifications and ruling it has to have," she said.

"For us it has to have one coloured parent of the four generations.

"We really played around with it and followed the American breed standard and looked at everything they've been doing over there because they have been doing it for longer."

As well as breeding the coloured Babydoll, Ms Royans said the "most exciting" news for Tanjar was they had sold internationally to Beijing.

Among those were one coloured purebred ram, two Grade B coloured ewes, one purebred, an off-white ram and three purebred, off-white ewes.

The sheep were put through quarantine for a few weeks, before heading on to the buyer.

"It was really exciting," Ms Royans said.

"We had been in talks with the buyer for about a year.

"We had blood tests and protocols done for China, which was interesting.

"And once they passed all of those off they went.

"When we first started out we never thought we would get to where we are.

"Even selling our first sheep over east was super exciting and now we send probably 25 to 30 sheep that way every year."

Tanjar has also received enquiries from Peru, England and Taiwan for embryos and semen.

There have been some challenges in breeding Babydolls, typically around sourcing the animal.

Ms Royan said when Tanjar started out there were long waiting lists and the only way the very few breeders would sell the animal was if the buyer was a registered stud.

"It has been difficult to find those bloodlines in Australia and we have put a lot of hard work in," she said.

"There are a lot of studs, which have the same bloodline as me now, in Spot's offspring.

"It is going to be interesting for the future to see how we go finding genetics and things like that, but it is pretty exciting at the same time."

Ms Royans said it was nice to see more breeders come on board to help the Babydoll survive.

She said Southdown breeders had done an "excellent job" in turning the smaller, traditional Babydoll from the 1950s and '60s into a commercial animal that was an asset and prime lamb producer.

"Thankfully for us, a small remnant of the visual type from before they were upgraded remains and they have carried on from there," she said.

"A lot of people call them the teddy bear type sheep.

"As they are now registered as a miniature breed, they can be distinguished away from the Southdown.

"We are in the transition period where the Babydoll is coming into its own, whereas before the two types were under one umbrella."

Deb Royans purchased her first Southdown ram and two ewes from Victoria in 2010, not knowing Tanjar would evolve to become the successful breeding business it is today.

Deb Royans purchased her first Southdown ram and two ewes from Victoria in 2010, not knowing Tanjar would evolve to become the successful breeding business it is today.

Ms Royans said Babydolls were their own miniature sheep, ideally suited for small holdings, which they were originally bred for in England.

"They were bred to pack on as much meat as they could on a small animal, so people could farm them on a very small area," she said.

"This animal could be farmed on small acreage in the 1700 to 1800s and would pack on as much meat as possible for the table.

"When they were butchered they would provide families with the best cuts of sweet meat.

"Fortunately for the Babydoll Southdown not many get eaten anymore because they are very much wanted, especially the ewes and the wethers, as pets.

"The ones we have eaten and the crossbreds have been really good meat and you are yielding a lot of meat off a small carcase."

As the breed is very early maturing, Ms Royans has found that if it is butchered after 12 months of age, the meat can be quite fatty.

Therefore, if they are used for meat purposes, they should be butchered quite early on.

Meanwhile, the animal's wool has very little value due to its length and quality.

However, Ms Royans hoped it could reach a point where it could be.

At the moment the wool is shorn and sold to woolsheds at Fremantle to cover costs involved with shearing.

Ms Royans said in America breeders were focusing on wool and fleece, but Australia was yet to reach that stage.

"The Downs wool is about an inch to two inches, so it is very short and not valuable," Ms Royans said.

"It is quite fine and is used in the carpet making sector mostly.

"In the States they have increased the fleece and it can now be used for spinning and things like that.

"It would be nice for us to get to a point where the fleece is valuable.

"People could shear the animal and use their wool, as well as meat, which would be pretty cool."

When asked what she loves most about breeding Babydolls, Ms Royans said it was not only the animal, but also the people.

"I love showing the animal and talking to people about it," she said.

"As well as, meeting new breeders - I am really interested in helping people start up and get involved in the industry.

"I've learned so much being involved with them.

"At one stage we could have lost the breed, so now it is cool to see them receive renewed interest and all of the breeders can't keep up with demand.

"I can't even keep up with the demand and have a waiting list a year or so in advance."

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