3 Feb 2017

Beloved Babydolls

From Country Life, 9:20 pm on 3 February 2017

Babydolls are rare, compact sheep with faces like teddy bears. They're in hot demand from orchardists and winegrowers - who want environmentally friendly lawn-mowers - but they come with a hefty price-tag.

Tracy Leach has been known to fill her kitchen with lambs she thinks might be feeling the cold.

She'll also brave all weather, often in the middle of the night, just to see a lamb being born.

Tracy's a former cityslicker who, with her husband Lennox Vellekoop, has a tiny but growing flock of babydoll sheep on their Waiuku farmlet.

Tracy and Lennox now have a breeding flock of 21 Old English Southdown Babydoll ewes and orders for lambs stretching years ahead.

The rare, compact sheep, with a face like a teddy bear, grow to about two-thirds the size of a typical sheep and are in huge demand from people running organic orchards and vineyards who want environmentally friendly lawn-mowers.

"Because they are long and quite solid they can't jump up so that's where they're beneficial in terms of not being able to get up on their hind legs to reach vines and fruit," Tracy says.

But that's not the only thing they have going for them.  

"They are so cute."

Tracy and Lennox have been investing heavily in building up their flock and have recently imported five babydolls from Australia and, for the past two years, have been transplanting babydoll embryos into recipient ewes to boost numbers.

The ewe lambs sell for $950 each.

Tracy says the docile, friendly sheep bring her joy.

"I work in the city so when you get home and you're kind of sitting there having dinner and you look out the window and it's like these guys..they're just lining up looking down at you smiling. You know it can't help but put a smile on your face."