Originating from the South Down hills of Sussex County England, the Southdown is one of the oldest breeds of down sheep. These small sheep were kept by English farms for a dual purpose - their fine fleece and flavorful meat. Along with their extreme hardiness, these traits helped southdowns to grow in popularity.
In 1780, John Ellman began the standardization of the Southdown breed. Sometime between 1824-1829 the first of these small sturdy sheep were imported to the United States where they continued to grow in popularity. World War I brought a sharp decline in the number of Southdowns and by the end of World War II the breed was near extinction. These compact, hardy sheep, ideally suited to the smaller acreage of a family farm where they could be economically kept lost favor as refrigeration and storage of meat became easier and the resulting demand for larger cuts of meat grew. Coupled with the decline of the small sustainable family farm in favor of the industrial farm model the once popular small Southdowns were no longer wanted.