The American Blackbelly sheep has been developed in America from several breeds. As a particular need arose, so early settlers met this need by developing  domestic animal breeds to suit particular purposes.

The Quarter horse arose from the homesteaders' need for a horse that had a lot of cow savvy and was quick off the mark when working cattle.

Like the Quarter horse, the American Blackbelly sheep is a hybrid. This exotic-looking breed is what is known as a 'hair' breed. Instead of having wool it has hair although it does grow some wool in winter. Rather than wait to be shorn, it very conveniently sheds its wool in the spring. The American Blackbelly is sometimes called the Barbado sheep. This is not the same breed as the Barbados Blackbelly.

Barbados Blackbelly Sheep(63517)Credit: Wikimedia

Breeders in Texas crossed the Barbados Blackbelly (a polled breed) and Rambouilette to start with but the resulting hybrids had poor quality horns which often interfered with the animal's ability to feed and/or see. Repeated crossing back to the more primitive Mouflon sheep resulted in much more impressive horn growth.

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These sheep were referred to as 'Corsican' in reference to the Mouflon blood. Several distinct breeds have been developed from these Corsicans including the American Blackbelly. Spectacular horns in the rams and a tan to brown to red hair fleece, complete with dramatic black markings, now make the American Blackbelly a very striking animal. The horns are so impressive that adult rams are hunted and the horns displayed as trophies.

Fully mature rams may display horns that curl 30 inches or more. The horns may vary from sweeping out in a spiral to curling tightly. Others sweep out then curve behind the neck. Other individuals have heart-shaped horns. Trophy horns need to match and should be well-balanced and symmetrical.

The American Blackbelly has a noble bearing. It is strong, alert and clean cut. It has a very attractive colouring with the body colour ranging from light tan to a very dark shade. White hairs are permissible but not solid white markings. The chin, throat, belly, legs, underside of the tail and ears are black. There are black facial bars or badger markings. The neck is strong with no loose folds. Mature rams sometimes sport long hair running down the neck to the brisket. The hair covering the neck is coarse.

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Rams measure 32 inches at the shoulders and ewes 26 inches. Weights range from 55kg (rams) to 45kg (ewes). They tend to look thinner than most wool breeds. However the meat is well muscled, lean and finely-grained. Although the lambs may have a slower growth rate, they are often more efficient converters of feed to meat.

The head is of medium size with a 'Roman' or convex nose. The ewe has a much more feminine head. The muzzle is wide and strong. The lower jaw should be black. The horns begin to develop early in the life of a ram and should curl without cutting into the face or neck. There is a thick 'mane' of hair over the necks of the rams while the ewes do not generally have horns. The ears should stick out parallel to the ground when the animal is alert and the inside of the ears should be black. There is also a wide black stripe from above the eye to the base of the crown. The brown eyes are almond-shaped.

These sheep are known for their ability to jump and the pasterns are strong and springy. The legs are straight. The croup is long and sloping and the hindquarters muscular. The hind legs are long and straight with no tendency to be cow-hocked. The tail of show sheep should reach to the hocks and may end with a distinct white tip. Although some wool is allowed, the majority of the coat should be 'hair'. This is shed in spring to reveal a thinner, shorter coat.

Like the Caliornia Red, American Blackbellys are aseasonal breeders which means they can breed all year round. Multiple births are common. Hair sheep in general have a high resistance to parasites. They have longer fleeces in the cold months and shed these over spring so are quite tolerant of extremes of temperature. If handled when young they remain friendly and have a moderate herding instinct.

Breeders of the American Blackbelly have several goals for improvement in their breeding programmes. Ewes are chosen for large frames to accommodate multiple embryos of larger size, adequate udders, larger pelvis (thus making birthing easier), ability to breed throughout the year with a quick breed-back after birthing, and good maternal instincts. Ideally, ewes will have black on the back of the udder and all the way up the underside of the tail. At the moment, ewes should not be bred to larger breeds as this creates lambing problems.

Rams are chosen for significant horn growth at an early age, neck strength to hold his head high when alert and long, black hair (mane) all the way down the front of the throat.

Where there is little economic advantage in having wool sheep the American Blackbelly is a very attractive alternative. The American Blackbelly has a number of potential uses – as a trophy animal, for meat, pasture control, companion animals and as pets and estate flocks because of their unique appearance.