Suffolk Sheep

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Other common names: Southdown Norfolks; Black Faces

The Basics:
What do you get when you cross a majestic British Southdown Sheep with the great, big, black-faced Norfolk Horn Sheep? Why, the Suffolk Sheep of course!

Suffolk sheep originated in England in the late 1700's when breeders did just that, crossing the large, polled Southdown sheep with Norfolk Horn sheep to create a breed with a decent fleece, plenty of meat, and enduring popularity.

Thanks to their large size, high muscle-mass, and general ease of lambing, Suffolk sheep are raised primarily for meat. They are currently the most popular purebred sheep breed in America, and are the leading terminal sire in the British Isles. Suffolk Sheep are especially popular with commercial producers as the breed has high milk output to support healthy lambs, hard hooves (this cuts down on issues with foot rot) and wide pelvic dimensions that contribute to ease of lambing without assistance or complications.

Appearance / Health:
Suffolk sheep are large-bodied, tall, open- and black-faced sheep with no horns. The legs are black and free of wool. They produce a medium wool type of fleece which grows to about 3 inches and weighs 5-8 pounds on a 60% yield. One of the most common ailments among sheep is a viral skin disease called soremouth or “orf.”

Ringworm or “club lamb fungus” is a rash also common among sheep. And much like “mad cow disease,” sheep can have a similar neurological ailment called “scrapie.” These and other potential health issues should be addressed by a qualified veterinarian. Good health is promoted by sanitary habitat conditions, proper nutrition, and a proactive shepherd.

Behavior / Temperament:
As you probably know, sheep are herd animals that rely on staying together as a flock to protect themselves from predators. Because they are a traditional prey animal, sheep have developed an extreme sensitivity to predators. They can sense the presence of threat from several hundred feet away (they are able to twist and turn their ears to detect potential danger) and will usually follow their instinct to flee instead of fighting or attacking. While fleeing, sheep run in a winding pattern to be able to see what is behind them.

As domesticated animals, sheep make good pets because they are docile and easily connect with humans, especially lambs that are bottle-fed. Miniature breeds and sheep that have hair instead of fur can make ideal pets, and raising sheep is a popular project in the 4-H youth organization.

Housing / Diet:
Sheep are grazing animals and do well living their entire lives outdoors, though they typically need a stand of trees or some other structure to act as a suitable wind-break and as protection from rain/snow. They get sufficient exercise and fresh air out in the field, and regular rotation will cut down on their worm load.

In addition to a treed area or wind-brea, they do need shelter from harsh storms and unusually hot days. Many shepherds install field structures to provide shade, for example, hutches, domes, carports, and makeshift sheds. A common shade structure is a hoop house, like an open hangar or a greenhouse, which has a metal arched frame covered with tarp or other heavy-duty fabric.

Some sheep owners keep their flock in a barn or similar enclosure to protect them from predators. These enclosures must have very good ventilation because moisture and poor air conditions lead to an increase in illnesses and generally poorer health in the flock.

For warmth and comfort, bedding material should be provided. The best bedding is absorbent, clean, dry, and easy to muck out. Some options are straw, wood shavings, sawdust, corncobs, dried corn stalks, peat, hemp, paper, or alfalfa hay. Preference is determined by cost, availability, convenience, and type of sheep. For instance, sawdust is not recommended for wool sheep because it gets into their fleece and makes it harder to process the valuable fiber. Paper is another potential bedding material that is highly absorbent but difficult to manage in the field.

Lambs start with their mother’s milk and typically start to nibble on light pasture grass at two weeks old. Lambs may be left to nurse for three - five months in order to be marketed as milk-fed lamb meat, or they may be weaned from the ewe’s milk at six - eight weeks old and can start eating dry feed of grains (wheat, oats, barley, cottonseed, corn), soybean and peanut hulls, and hay. The main diet of sheep is fresh grass and other forage and pasture vegetation. The pasture must be fertile and large enough to support the grazing of sheep for about seven hours a day (morning and afternoon). Fresh water must be constantly available, especially during the warm months and if the diet is mostly dry hay. Supplements are recommended, and must be given in the middle of the day to balance the sheep’s food intake.


dual purpose breed, great meat, superior growth rate, hardy, commercial farm flock


aggressive ram, stomach distress, great escape artist


downs type wool, FFA project, foot rot resistance, attractive animal, highly muscled sheep

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