Just four years since it was re-established, Salopian Suffolks has become one of the youngest flocks to be awarded the prestigious Bristol Gold Cup for the winner of the Suffolk Flock of the Year competition.
The current Salopian flock was re-established in 2014, having been disbanded for 20 years to allow owner Phil Poole and his wife Jill to concentrate on development of their main enterprise, Beaconsfield Holiday Park.
Farming in partnership with son Russell, Phil’s flock is made up of 60 breeding ewes at Battlefield, Shrewsbury.
The initial foundation animals for the flock were sourced from John Sinnett’s Worcestershire-based Stockton flock; Mark Evans’ Jubilee flock, Keighley, West Yorkshire, where they bought seven ewe lambs; a handful of ewes from the dispersal of Robbie Wilson’s Aberdeen-based Strathisla flock; and others were sourced from Jimmy Douglas’ Cairness flock, also based in Aberdeen.
Flock tup Solwaybank Rock Solid, a Lakeview Harbinger son bred by Iain and Judith Barbour, Annan, Dumfriesshire, was bought for 26,000gns from Stirling in 2016.
In October 2018, the dispersal of Mr Sinnett’s Stockton flock provided the opportunity for the acquisition of further females, including a shearling ewe which was overall Suffolk champion and a ewe lamb which was the reserve female champion at last year’s Royal Welsh Show, buying them for 6,000gns and 2,400gns, respectively.
At this sale Phil also bought a new stock tup for 10,000gns, Birness Cracker, a Crewelands Megastar son bred by George Stuart, Ellon, Aberdeenshire, which was reserve champion at Stirling in 2018, when it was bought by Mr Sinnett.
“The goal was to breed females of a specific type,” says Russell, explaining sales into the commercial market are still important, but the main focus is to breed females for the pedigree breeder.
Phil says the trends in Suffolk sheep have changed in recent years as people are now looking for taller, showier and more upstanding animals.
“We are looking for type, lines and conformation, strength, power, length and a good back-end, generally good females, and I have to like them,” he says.
Last year, Salopian Suffolks attended the Shropshire County Show where they took first and second place with tup lambs out of a class of 22, and first and third with ewe lambs also out of 22.
However, this year they intend to enter some of the larger shows too, including the Royal Three Counties and the Royal Welsh shows, as well as several society sales, so they have enlisted the help of a new shepherd, Stuart Davis, who has joined the team to help manage the show sheep and is already preparing for the first summer shows.
The farm comprises two steadings totalling 80 hectares (200 acres) of owned land, half of which is put down to wheat, barley and oilseed rape.
Phil says: “We grow all our own hay and silage, as well as cabbages and turnips to feed sheep in winter.”
As all sheep are housed during winter, he says forage crops are delivered to them indoors.
Health status is extremely important to the Pooles. They work closely with Shropshire Farm Vets and the flock is maedi visnaaccredited, as well as vaccinated for enzootic abortion, clostridial diseases and foot rot. All animals bought in are from high health flocks.
Maintaining high health status has proved vital for the growth of their export market. The flock is scrapie-monitored to comply with export rules and must be part of the scheme for seven years to be fully accredited.
All ewes are synchronised with progesterone sponges and artificially inseminated using semen collected from the flock’s stock tups on August 3, to allow for lambing to commence from December 27 each year.
All ages and sexes are in high demand and they have already sold animals into Serbia, Spain, Portugal and France. There are a number of people on the waiting list for ram lambs and there is considerable interest in ewes. Some tup lambs are sold into commercial flocks in the UK too and, last year, they sold a tup lamb at Stirling for 3,500gns.
Focus has been on breeding females and, now they have a flock they are happy with, Phil says it is time to start breeding more sought-after tups. This will allow them to increase sales into pedigree flocks. As such, they have invested in Birness Cracker, which is already producing pleasing progeny.
Phil has been involved in the creation of a new Suffolk sale, the Shrewsbury Classic, which will take place at Shrewsbury Livestock Auction on October 26 and see the older end of the flock put under the hammer, together with lots from nine other breeders.
In June last year, the Salopian Suffolk flock was awarded the Bristol Gold Cup for the overall winner of the society’s national flock competition.
They came second with their ewe lambs, first with the ewes and second with their stock tup, Solwaybank Rock Solid, resulting in either first or second place in all classes, making them the overall winners.
The judge, Andrew Wilson, Co Donegal, said he was looking for continuity of animals in the flock, appearance and conformation, and took a total of 10 days visiting flocks throughout the UK and Ireland inspecting animals.
Society chief executive Robin McIlrath said: “Phil, ably assisted by Russell, has invested a lot of time in the flock and this win is all the more remarkable given he has only been a member of the society for the last four years.”
Russell also runs a herd of traditional type pedigree Herefords under the same prefix as the sheep, currently running 10 cows of high health status. His aim is to sell bulls to dairy farmers as well as building the herd up to provide more beef for the holiday park’s on-site restaurant.
The Pooles are also owners of a boarding kennels accommodating up to 100 dogs and 80 cats and are directors in a machinery dealership located nearby.