Each month we're spotlghting a different breeder of miniature Harlequin Sheep. We've learned the importace of getting to know our members and allowing the public to learn about the people involved with this charming breed. This month we feature Whistlefish Farm in Butler, TN. Click the image to the right to see this month's feature.
The Harlequin sheep as we know it today was developed by Kathleen Sterling, owner of Black Sheep Farm East in VA about 35 years ago. A variety of breeds were used to develop the Harlequin breed including Karakul, Tunis,
Corriedale, Lincoln, Border Leicester, Romney, Montadale, and Southdown rams.
When Ms. Sterling’s goal of consistently producing a sheep the size and basic conformation of the Southdown breeds with fleece of varied color, staple length and texture was realized some 15 years ago the flock became a closed breed meaning she had achieved what she wanted the breed to look like, along with other characteristics. Harlequins used to come in a standard size even though technically that still fits the definition of miniature sheep (26" at shoulder).
In 2018, the registry was handed over to Jill Christopher. At that time, it was decided to continue the breeding focus on shorter sheep overall, yet the standard has not changed.. Since 2018 approximately 15 sheep were admitted under our Open Registry evaluation, yet many of the lambs given HSSR registration were from registered Babdyoll Southdowns.
To counter misconceptions and defamation by Babydoll Southdown breeders on Social Media, a change needed to be made to allow for an influx of new genetics to get us to an American Purebred status in 500 registered Harlequin sheep - the number frequently quoted as the minimum needed for enough diversity to sustain the breed standards. As part of that change, the Open Registry process was closed at the end of December 2022. Read on about our exciting future.
While the Harlequin has standardized itself as a handsome breed of its own, breeders continue to improve on the size and “look” in achievement of Ms. Sterling’s vision.
To that end, and to continue to breed the size downward, the registry is allowing lambs that are the result of a registered Harlequin cross bred to a registered Babydoll Southdown.
This allows us to introduce the new bloodlines needed to reach that target of 500 American Purebred (AP) Harlequin sheep.
Once we’ve reached that number, the breed will be closed to all outcrossing.
The reason is simple. Southdown rams were chosen to be a part of the breed mix that has become known as Harlequins.
Although the rams used were the larger, American Southdown, we felt using the original petite version that was originally from the UK was a more true example of what Ms. Sterling envisioned. As some of the original, smaller Southdowns were re-discovered by Robert Mock in 1986 and subsequently renamed "Babydoll Southdown" to distinguish them as closer to the original Southdown, and because Southdowns are naturally polled also, this was the right choice.
Harlequins are a type of miniature sheep, with adult ewes
typically weighing between 80-120 lbs and rams weighing 90-150 lbs. Due to
their small size, they are suitable for all age groups, from young children to
One of their notable features is being naturally polled, which means they don't have horns and reduces the risk of serious injury.
In addition to their manageable size, Harleys are known for being a hardy breed, which can withstand different environmental conditions. They are also easy lambers, producing multiple offspring over many years, which makes them suitable for small-scale farming or as a pet for enthusiasts.
Harlequins, like their Babydoll wool counterparts, are renowned for their fine, medium staple length wool. In fact, when Babydoll/Harlequin crosses occur, a beautiful, rich, dark, cocoa brown fleece is produced.
Additionally, when the tri-color fleece is processed, the resulting roving often has an attractive light gray color.
The wool from most mature Harlequins can be separated into off white, brown, gray, and tan to create roving in these specific colors. This feature makes Harlequins a desirable breed for wool production, as their wool can be utilized in a variety of textile applications.
Although Harlequin sheep are a relatively rare breed, they are surprisingly affordable. If you're looking for a breed that can help you obtain or maintain an ag exemption on your land or serve as a 4H or FFA project for your kids or grandkids, Harlequins are definitely worth their "weight in gold".
They are versatile animals that can thrive in different environments, whether it's on the farm, in your backyard, or even in the show ring.In fact, the value of Harlequins is reflected in their performance at various livestock shows.