Origin & History

The original Suffolks were the result of crossing Southdown rams on Norfolk Horned ewes. Apparently the product of this cross was a great improvement over either one of the parents. Although the Suffolk was a recognised breed as early as 1810, the flock book was not closed until much later.

In 1930, Southdowns were described as large sheep without horns, dark faces and legs, fine bones and long small necks. They were low set in front with high shoulders and light forequarters; however, their sides were good, rather broad in the loin, and were full in the thigh and twist. Today’s Suffolk derives its meatiness and quality of wool from the old original British Southdown.

The Norfolk Horned sheep, now rare, were a wild and hardy breed. They were blackfaced, light, fleeced sheep. Both sexes were horned. The upland regions of Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridge on the southeastern coast of England are very rugged and forage is sparse. It was this dry, cold and windy area in which the Norfolk breed adapted itself to travelling great distances for food, thereby developing a superbly muscular body.

Suffolk ewes
Suffolk ewes

It was said at that time of the Norfolk Horned, ‘their limbs are long and muscular, their bodies are long and their general form betokens activity and strength.’ This breed and its crosses were valued highly both by farmers and butchers. However, sheepmen of that day did not like the long legs, flat sides, nor wild nature of the Norfolk Horned. They noted that Southdowns crossed with Norfolk produced a progeny that reduced most of the criticisms of both breeds.

Fertility, hardiness and activity were inherited from the Norfolk, and the excellent conformation came from the Southdown. Although originally known as ‘Blackfaces’, in 1859 the new breed was recognised by the Royal Agricultural Society of England and called ‘Suffolk’.

In 1913 one ram and six ewes were imported into Canterbury by Mr George Gould to meet specialist requirements in the meat trade of fast growth and high flesh to fat ratio. Steady growth in popularity has seen a rapid progression in flock numbers from 176 ewes in 9 registered flocks in 1940 to 360 registered flocks and 17,168 ewes in 1983, and in 2000 now there are 240 registered flocks comprising 19,000 ewes. Suffolks are now the most dominant sheep meat breed throughout the world. Suffolk cross lambs are ideally suited to today’s trade requirements. They have an excellent lean meat ratio, large eye muscle, well-muscled legs, and succulent, well-textured meat.

Suffolk ram
Suffolk ram

Breed Description

The Suffolk sheep is active and noble in appearance showing character with:

  • absence of coarseness
  • head black and long with good muzzle
  • ears of fine texture
  • eyes bright and full
  • neck of reasonable length well set blending into fine shoulders with a moderate chest
  • belly covered in wool
  • legs straight and black
  • bone of good quality well-muscled and woolled to knees and hocks
  • straight topline
    skin fine, soft and pink in colour.

A Suffolk sheep should be an alert, free moving and well muscled animal with stamina and good balance and is noted for long and active life.

South Suffolk breed description


Suffolk ewes & lambs at Methven
Suffolk ewes & lambs at Methven

Breed Classification

Large, long-legged, with a pronounced Roman nose. A comparatively prolific breeder. A dual-purpose breed. Principally used for cross-breeding to improve the fertility and performance of other breeds.

Location: Stud flocks are found throughout New Zealand with the majority being found in the South Island.

Bodyweight Wool

Suffolks are one of the heaviest sheep breeds.

Rams are frequently 100 kgs and more, and ewes up to 100 kgs or so.

  • Short fine Down type
  • 25 - 33 microns
  • 48 to 58 spinning count
  • Staple length 5 to 8.75 cms

Wool has more bulk than most breeds, and has excellent properties for thermal fillings in garments and bedding.


Fine grained, low fat.


Suffolks are inherently fertile and virile producing excellent percentages.