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Interview with Linda Sakiewicz

Linda Sakiewicz and Claude Hughes own the only flock of sheep in the United States that has not been cross-bred and that is line-bred back to sheep from the Barbados Islands. Following (with Linda's permission) is an email interview I had with Linda regarding the history of her flock and other observations about Barbados Blackbelly sheep.

Q: Is it true that your flock is the only flock of Barbados Blackbelly in the U.S. that hasn't been cross-bred?

A: Yes. In 1996, the North Carolina State University (NCSU) flock was to be dispersed, but due to the mediation of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) and our experience with the breed, NCSU sold the remaining animals to us. The ancestors of these animals had been directly imported from Barbados in about 1970 by Professor Lemuel Goode and no other stock had ever been introduced into this flock. Thus, as far as anyone involved in hair sheep breeding at universities or with ALBC knows, this is the only flock with such a certain pedigree. Since 1996, we have sold some stock from this flock with the hope that others will "breed up" over time to broaden the number of top-flight Blackbellies in the United States by using these rams on the best ewes on existing flocks around the country.

Q: I have a philosophical question for you. The Oklahoma Web site distinguishes Barbados Blackbelly from Barbado sheep based primarily on whether or not the ram is polled. Do you agree that that is the major distinction?

A: It is an important issue, but occasionally ram lambs from the pure NCSU bloodlines will grow scurs or even modest horns. The scurs are no problem really and I think they are just fine to retain as breeding stock. To be consistent with the polled characteristic of the breed as it exists in the Caribbean, these horned rams should go to the abattoir. The keeping of horned rams in your backyard in a village is big trouble, so these are selectively removed from the population. Also, the reason that polled rams were brought from Africa with the slave trade hundreds of years ago was that polled rams took up less space aboard crowded ships.

Q: There are two Barbados Blackbelly sheep registries in the U.S., yet you choose not to register your sheep. What are your feelings about breed registries?

A: Basically, I think there should be two registries; one that has some strict standard for inclusion that depends upon both an inspection and credible documentation of some high percentage (cattle registries commonly require 7/8 or 15/16) of breeding from pure bloodlines). Since I have occasionally heard rumors that new importations of semen or embryos from Barbados might occur, it would be really great to reward those who go to the trouble of doing so. At the same time, I think it would be foolish to discard some excellent animals and genetics that exist in the less pure stock here in the U.S. So, a second registry would make sense so we don't needlessly discard some potentially valuable stock. Therefore, these animals don't earn the distinction of listing in the more stringent registry, but will have a verifiable pedigree.