SLOWLY reinforcing a foothold in the Australian lamb industry, Suffolk breeders can look forward to an exciting future.
This is according to Doug Deppeler, who is the president of the Suffolk Sheep Breeders' Association of Victoria.
He also runs the Deppeler Suffolk stud at Derrinallum, joining 80 breeding ewes a year and selling a further 40 rams annually.
A long-term advocate of the breed, Mr Deppeler says Australian Suffolk genetics have improved dramatically throughout the years and increased in numbers.
"In the past 10-15 years, we've seen a number of longer-term breeders boosting the numbers in their flock," he said.
At the height of Suffolk's growth, there were 180 registered studs in the State.
Many breeders were chasing lamb prices and liked the fact the breed was easily identified when joined to a Merino ewe.
But Mr Deppeler said the stud job grew much too quickly and numbers quickly fell again in the 1990s.
"Things are stabilising now and the breed is gaining momentum again," he said.
Today there are 40 studs in Victoria – and Suffolks are developing a healthy reputation in the lamb industry for surviving in hardy conditions.
"In the past five years, we've experienced increased demand from commercial producers," he said.
Mr Deppeler said this was largely thanks to commercial lamb producers in marginal farming regions, where Suffolks not only survive, but thrive.
"Sheep producers on that marginal country are telling me they've tried most recognised white sheep breeds, but find Suffolks outperform them in that environment because of their better constitution and longevity," he said.
With longer legs than other breeds and a strong black hoof, Suffolks can travel long distances on lighter soils in a drier climate. he said.
"In the Wimmera Mallee and South Australia where you get those conditions, lamb producers are finding that Suffolks will do a great job," he said.
"We also sell rams into higher rainfall country as well and the rams adapt in that area too."
But what about the end product?
"The meat is comparable to any other breed," he said.
"But much of the success behind Suffolks has been about getting more lambs on the ground and more surviving."
In the end, the breed will ultimately help to improve the bottom-line, Mr Deppeler said.
However, Suffolks still have a long way to go.
"There are other breeds that have been around a long-time that haven't developed to suit current conditions and they've lost market share," he said.
"But we offer something slightly different and I would like to think we as a breed have worked hard to adapt and develop a reputation.
"We are consistently working on that and trying to improve all the time.
"But we need to work more on how we get that message out to the public."
Back on the farm, Mr Deppeler has been using the genetic benchmarking program Stockscan for the past four years.
He's noticed big improvements across the flock.
"I've seen a definite increase in the amount of meat on the animals," he said.
As a breed, the sheep have not always been recognised for being well-muscled, but he had been working hard to improve carcase characteristics.
Mr Deppeler said benchmarking programs would help to achieve this goal, but visual assessment was still vital.
"You need to be able to see that meat," he said.
Apart from the commercial job, Suffolk breeders were also looking forward to a full showing calendar.
Last weekend, the breed were one of 19 feature breeds at the Australian Sheep & Wool Show at Bendigo. And next week, Suffolks will take centre stage as feature breed at Sheepvention in Hamilton.
Mr Deppeler said there would be 109 Suffolks in the ring.
"This is the biggest number we've seen at Hamilton in a long time," he said.
"It's great news and will go a long way in promoting the breed."
In fact, Suffolk numbers at Hamilton have tripled during the past five years.
"Visitors love seeing rows and rows of black faces," he said. "Suffolks are definitely an attraction."