In Sussex sheep were reared mostly for their wool. An estimated 110,000 sheep were part of the Middle Ages Sussex landscape. Battle Abbey owned about 3000 sheep, other parish records show amongst others Bexhill, Alfriston, Friston and Brighton having 2000 sheep each.
In 1773, Gilbert White records the difference between sheep westwards of the river Adur, being horned, with smooth white faces and legs, while eastwards all the flocks were hornless, with “black faces with a white tuft of wool on their foreheads, and speckled and spotted legs.” The original Southdown was bred by John Ellman of Glynde about 200 years ago. He saw the potential of raising sheep that produced both good wool and meat. In 1813, 200,000 Southdown sheep were kept on the eastern Southdown. By day they grazed the open downs and at dusk went down to the lower arable land to fold. As the chalky Downs are not fertile, closely folding sheep manure and trample small areas of ground ready for crops to grow. War, the collapse of the wool trade and modern farming methods caused the decline of the Southdown and placed them on the watch list by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. There is now a revival of the breed and Southdown are seen all over the United Kingdom as well as in other sheep farming countries.