Suffolk breeders found 'white' way to solve their dilemma

White Suffolk breeders changed their black future

Sheep Breeders Compendium
BIG BOY: Ian Turner, Renrut stud, with Moby Dick who sired his champion White Suffolk ewes at the 1991 and 1992 Adelaide Shows.

BIG BOY: Ian Turner, Renrut stud, with Moby Dick who sired his champion White Suffolk ewes at the 1991 and 1992 Adelaide Shows.

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White Suffolks are a relative new breed but have made a big mark on the Australian lamb industry.

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White Suffolks, one of the major success stories of the modern Australian prime lamb industry, was born from research by leading sheep scientist, Professor Euan Roberts, in the mid-1970s.

While working at the University of NSW Professor Roberts, who died in 2007, gained funding for a research project to better understand why Suffolk lambs weren't as popular in the local marketplace as they were in countries like Great Britain and the United States.

He concluded the discounting had nothing to do with their performance, structure or meat quality but their black points and black heads which reduced their skin and wool value.

So he set about trying to breed a white Suffolk by crossing them with Poll Dorsets and Border Leicesters.

While Professor Roberts only had enough money to buy poorer quality Suffolk ewes his research provided the momentum for a group of stud breeders to develop a White Suffolk that could match Poll Dorsets, the dominant white meatsheep breed at the time.

TOP SIRE: Roger Wilkinson, Camborn station, Pooncarie, NSW, with the $32,000 ram he bought at the Detpa Grove stud sale last year. The ram is held by Detpa Grove stud principal, David Pipkorn.

TOP SIRE: Roger Wilkinson, Camborn station, Pooncarie, NSW, with the $32,000 ram he bought at the Detpa Grove stud sale last year. The ram is held by Detpa Grove stud principal, David Pipkorn.

A number of those foundation breeders, who mainly used Poll Dorsets and Border Leicesters in their conversion programs, are still active and influential today.

Among them are David and Michelle Pipkorn, Detpa Grove stud, Nhill, Victoria, who founded their stud in 1981 using their Suffolk stud as a base into which they introduced Poll Dorsets to get the "white gene".

They sold a ram last year for $32,000 to outback NSW breeder, Roger Wilson, Camborn station, Pooncarie and enjoyed their best ever annual sale.

Also still charging ahead is the Heinrich family's Ella Matta stud, Kangaroo Island, South Australia, which was established using some of Professor Roberts' original flock.

Ella Matta was the first registered White Suffolk stud in the world and has the number one spot in the Australian stud book.

HANDS-ON PROFESSOR: Research by Euan Roberts from the University of NSW in the mid-1970s sparked the development of the White Suffolk breed.

HANDS-ON PROFESSOR: Research by Euan Roberts from the University of NSW in the mid-1970s sparked the development of the White Suffolk breed.

Last year Ella Matta sold a ram for $29,000 to a syndicate of South Australian buyers.

The first president of the Australian White Suffolk Association, Ian Turner (who is no longer a breeder), was farming on Kangaroo Island in the 1970s and was fed up with low returns for his family's Suffolks.

The breed had superior growth, were easy-care, hardy, had good eating quality and low lambing problems but represented only 10 per cent of the Australian prime lamb market.

"There wouldn't be a White Suffolk breed today without Professor Roberts," he said.

Despite plenty of naysayers the group set their breeding goals and agreed to strict recording of individual breeding programs, he said.

Mr Turner used both Poll Dorsets and Borders Leicesters in his program which led to the formation of the Renrut stud (number 3 in the stud book) .

He began crossing in 1981 and got his first few white lambs in 1987. By 1991 he was showing his White Suffolks at the Adelaide Show.

Mr Turner said the White Suffolk had been the best thing that ever happened to Poll Dorsets because their breeders had to focus harder on some of the problems they had been ignoring such as lambing problems.

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