Suffolk sheep were first recognized in 1797 in sheep breed books. Since 1888, the Suffolk sheep have traveled to new continents and become a staple of American and Canadian sheep farms. The large breed, black faced sheep was developed in England. Originally, a Norfolk horned ewe was bred to a Southdown ram. The offspring of the original cross breeding resulted in a polled lamb.
Suffolk sheep quickly became America’s most common breed of sheep. The breed background of the prolific Norfolk ewe brought extreme hardiness to the Suffolk breed. The Norfolk also had the black face, horns and large size. Even the meat of the Norfolk breed was prized. However, the Norfolk had poor conformation. The early breeders matched the Norfolk with the Southdown and came up with the future Suffolk breed. As often happens with crossbreeding, the offspring gathered up the best of both breeds. The black, open face, bare legs, and beautiful large build makes the Suffolk an attractive sheep. Unlike the Norfolk, the Suffolk is a polled breed, meaning no horns. The calm disposition of the Suffolk sheep makes them a popular choice for 4H clubs and family farms.
How Large do Suffolk Sheep Grow?
The Suffolk sheep grow to a large size range of 180 to 250 pounds in ewes. The rams can reach a hefty 350 pounds! A fairly long lifespan of 11 to 13 years and the excellent fertility rate adds to the popular features. The majority of farms keep the Suffolk sheep for meat production. The lambs are typically sold or butchered at 90 to 120 pounds. The lamb and mutton both are thought to have excellent taste, texture, and flavor. In some cases, cross breeding with other breeds increases the genetic benefits. The Welsh Mountain sheep are named as a breed that increases the meat production in the lambs. Using a Suffolk ram and a Welsh Mountain ewe is a common way to improve the Suffolk sheep flock.
Suffolk Sheep are Easy Keepers
All sheep, no matter if they grow fleece or are a hair breed, are herbivores. They rely on eating grass, leaves, hay and scrub growth. Having beautiful green pastures of field grass is wonderful, but not the only way to raise sheep. The Suffolk sheep is hardy and resourceful. Even sparse, scrubby pastures can be enough for the Suffolk sheep breed, as long as the nutritional needs are met. Meeting the nutritional requirements can be achieved by feeding hay and some commercial grain rations meant for sheep. Suffolk sheep are resistant to parasites. The breed also does well in conditions ranging from damp to dry pastures or paddocks.
Gestation and Lambing
Gestation in the Suffolk lasts 145 to 155 days. Twins are very common and to be expected. Most sheep farmers will hold off breeding the ewe until eight months of age, although they reach sexual maturity around six months. The rams reach sexual maturity around five months. Be sure and separate your first-year kids before the rams become able to impregnate the new ewes. Breeding very young ewes can lead to higher incidence of pregnancy difficulties. Once the Suffolk ewe is mature, it is possible to breed her twice a year, yielding four to six lambs, in many cases.
Suffolk Sheep Milk and Wool Fleece Products
While the Suffolk is not known to be a dairy sheep breed, the milk is used by some breeders to make an upscale cheese sold in gourmet shops. Sheep milk has double the protein of cow’s milk and a higher concentration of milk solids overall. The higher percentage of milk solids means sheep milk makes a delicious cheese from less milk. Still, most people do not rely on the Suffolk ewes for their milk supply. One disadvantage for sheep dairy production is a lack of facilities to process sheep milk. Most sheep milk is used by the Suffolk sheep breeder‘s family in smaller quantities.
While all the great meat production is going strong, another marketable product is being produced. Fleece and fiber production is another byproduct of raising any meat breed of sheep. The fleece can be used by commercial fiber mills or by hand spinners to obtain even more return from the investment in the flock. Shearing must be done once a year anyway, so the fleece should be used somehow. (Breeds such as the Katahdin sheep, are a meat breed that does not require shearing)
The Suffolk is considered a downy breed of wool producer. Hand spinners can definitely find a good amount of usable fleece to spin into yarn with the sheared fleece. The medium grading refers to the rating of a few factors of the fleece. The staple length, meaning the length of the fibers is two to 3.5 inches long. The micron count, 25 to 33 microns, makes it a medium grade wool. Each animal yields about five to eight pounds of usable fleece of which an average of 50 to 60 percent is usable. Even though the sheared wool can be used, Suffolk sheep are not usually considered when raising sheep for wool. Most of the Suffolk wool is sent to commercial processing. The Suffolk sheep breeders usually don’t take the effort needed to produce hand spinning fleece. (source: The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook by Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius, Storey Publishing, 2011)
Suffolk sheep are the right choice when looking to raise lamb and mutton. A field of grazing Suffolk sheep is a beautiful sight, with their large, stocky size and black and white color pattern. With proper care, milk and wool can be usable products obtained from the Suffolk breed, too. Have you considered this breed for your farm?