HISTORY OF THE SOUTH SUFFOLK SHEEP BREED
The Southdown breed was first written about in the 1400's. It was pastured in the grass covered chalk hills that run from east to west in the counties of Sussex and Kent in coastal south east England, The Southdown was noted for its fine textured fleshing. It was a small sheep until the mid 1900's when stud masters increased the length and height of the sheep and endeavored to select for a more open faced sheep.
In the late 1700's, livestock was still driven on hoof as the need arose and in the hard slatey hills of Norfolk there was a sheep called the Norfolk Horn, known for its ability to thrive where others would die and its ability to walk up to 150km to market and not loose any body weight.
During this time a Southdown ram was mated to Norfolk Horn ewes and produced an interesting looking hornless sheep with black face and legs. This new sheep was considered a fixed type by 1810 and in 1859 the breed was called Suffolk.
In the spring of 1886 at the town of Stowmark in the county of Suffolk, the Suffolk Sheep Society of Great Britain and Ireland was formed.
The fleece of the Suffolk is seven to eight centimeters in length and of about 26 microns and is used for hosiery, knitting yarns and tweeds. Both Suffolks and Southdown’s are spread into most sheep breeding countries of the world, primarily for the production of prime lambs.
South Suffolk breeders in this country are indebted to George Gould (1865-1941) of Canterbury, New Zealand.
George Gould had a Southdown Stud and in 1913 imported the first Suffolks into New Zealand. He believed that by crossing the Suffolk with the Southdown one could combine the best features of both breeds, ie.the leaner carcass of the Suffolk and the finer texture of the meat of the Southdown.
The cleaner face and legs of the Suffolk lift the progeny up out of the grass seeds and George always maintained that an open faced sheep was a better "doing" sheep and constantly pushed this point in regard to cleaning up the faces of the pure Southdown breed as well as increasing their size.
Forty years after his death, the Southdown stud masters saw the wisdom of what he had said and have done just that.
By 1929 George Gould was crossing the two parental breeds both ways and found as Dr (now Sir John) Hammond of the School of Agriculture Cambridge University had said "that due to the genetic closeness of the parental breeds, there was not much likelihood of the splitting up of type'.
In 1940 The Council of The New Zealand Sheep Breeders Association accepted Mr Gould's new breed of sheep (South Suffolk) into their flock book as an Appendix flock.
Taken from a letter to George Gould from Sir John Hammond, dated 28-3-1941.'Over here Suffolk/Southdown (South Suffolk) makes about the best carcass we can produce- it has the short thick hind legs of the Southdown with the thickness of lean meat of the Suffolk- one finds in these crosses few animals that contain too much fat in proportion to lean as sometimes occurs in the Southdown. The Suffolk/ Southdown (South Suffolk) not only has the good conformation of the Southdown but also has rather more weight for age, which makes it a good commercial proposition.'
The first South Suffolks were imported into Australia in1946 by Mr C.H. Kennedy of Yooraling Stud, Cunderdin,W.A. By 1959 eight Australian studs were registered in the NZ flock book.
On September 23,1958 Mr S.W.Porter of Orford, Victoria, Mr G.C. Mackie, of Culcairn, NSW, Mr R.G.Ireland and Mr A.F. Clarke of Yankalilla, S.A.formed the Australian South Suffolk Sheep Society, which printed a flock book for the breed for 14 years prior to the amalgamation with the Australian Society of Breeders of British Sheep (ASBBS) in September 1972.
From the time of the formation of the Australian Society, the South Suffolk breed gradually took its place in Australia and has some of the top sires for the production of prime lambs that have the early maturing, long carcasses and thick hind legs demanded by both the producer and consumer alike.
The South Suffolk is noted for its easy lambing (small heads and shoulders well let in), hardiness at birth, prepotency and its early maturity. South Suffolk lambs are uniform in quality.
South Suffolk rams possess great libido and seem to last more years which is a great plus for the commercial breeder. South Suffolk rams may be used on any breed of ewe and will even produce prime lambs from Merino ewes.
South Suffolks have been prominent in many carcass competitions where they have yielded up to 59% cold dead weight of their live weight. South Suffolk sired lambs with their short fine fleece are known to be able to stand a check and still "come again" without having to be shorn, as is the case with the more open wooled breeds.
This is an edited version of the history written by Mr Ted Gain, Kameroo South Suffolk Stud, for The Muster.
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