Breed: Suffolk Sheep
Cost: from $100-$200 (ewes); $300-500 (flock rams); $1000-$10,000 (stud rams)
Lifespan: 10-14 years
Recommended for: hobby farmers
The Suffolk was developed in England by crossing a variety of horned sheep, the Norfolk Horn, with Southdown sheep. The Southdown gave the breed conformation (its shape and build) and its quiet temperament, while the Norfolk Horn gave taste and quality to the meat.
Although it is alleged the Suffolk breed dates back hundreds of years, the first definite mention of the breed is from an agricultural writer in 1774. By 1810 the breed was accepted as pure and was recognised for its ease of lambing, adaptability and meat production.
In Australia the Suffolk was first registered in 1904, but the breed may have been here as early as the late 1800s. In Australia today it is bred mostly for its contribution to meat quality and flavour with around 180 studs registered with the British Breed Sheep Society.
The Suffolk is distinctively marked with a black head and feet and many would say it is one of the most attractive sheep breeds. It is a large framed sheep with a long, thickset body and smooth shoulders. The sheep is covered in white, fine wool that is moderately short and dense (24 microns). Lambs are born with variable colouring (some have quite dark wool) but this colouring is lost from the body as the animal matures.
Colours: There are no other colours known to the Suffolk Society, however there is a breed of sheep known as the White Suffolk. This sheep is however not a variation of the black-faced Suffolk, it is an outcross of the Suffolk with a white-faced breed of sheep.
Suffolk are alert, learn easily and are quick to quieten down once disturbed. As a hobby herd or as pets Suffolk sheep can be rewarding as, in small numbers, their individual characters can be appreciated. Like most sheep the ewes are far more manageable than the wethers or rams. Breeders say small flocks of Suffolk sheep can be easily herded or moved around using a bucket of food as a incentive.
Suffolk will need shearing once a year, which could be expensive and difficult to organise if you only have a small number. The sheep must be wormed twice a year and their tails docked when young to prevent fly strike. Lice can also be a problem. Occasionally their hooves need a trim. The clean face, crutch and points minimise fly strike so they are not as susceptible to internal parasites as other sheep but still require regular worming.
The Suffolk can be supported on pasture (5-7 sheep per hectare, or 2-3 per acre without additional feeding). They prefer short grass and their feed can be supplemented with hay.
If the herd consists of hobby sheep they can be hand fed daily and kept in a small space.
The majority of Suffolk are used for crossbreeding purposes. The rams are sold to farmers to impregnate ewes of other breeds. Suffolk rams apparently have a great libido and will work all year round, even throughout hot summer conditions. Suffolk ewes are also used for the production of crossbred lambs. They are exceptional mothers and often nurse twins, sometimes even triplets, and have minimal problems during birthing.
Although the quality of pure Suffolk meat is high there is no established market in Australia. These sheep can be used for milking.
There is however some precedent for eating Suffolk meat. It is reported that the Emperor of Japan feeds his international guests Suffolk sheep. They are the only sheep he keeps and he also has them imported from Australia for his table.
Suffolk wool is also a resource, however it is a short, dense wool that is in a different class from a fine Merino wool. It may also contain black wool, which reduces its appeal for spinning and yarn making. Suffolk wool is usually used for blanket making and as wadding in woolfilled doonas and quilts. When a Suffolk is crossbred with a white breed of sheep the resulting fleece is free from black.
We filmed our story with Lesley and Peter Harrison of South Australia. Lesley is also the secretary of the Suffolk Sheep Society of South Australia.
Suffolk Sheep Society of SA Inc
C/- The Secretary
Mrs Lesley Harrison
PO Box 84
Springton SA 5235
Phone/fax: (08) 8564 1119
For breeders in other states contact:
The Australian Society of Breeders of British Sheep Ltd (Federal Council)
Ascot Vale Victoria 3032
Phone: (03) 9281 7444