It’s a brave man who looks to take on the big boys in any profession let alone those in the pedigree livestock world but it’s one which businessman Stewart Craft is very much up for the challenge with his new found love – Suffolk sheep.

Passionate about this big black and white native breed since he was a teenager, Stewart has had his dream of owning a prized Suffolk ewe flock on hold until 2015, when he was able to purchase the 130-acre Little Balquhomrie Farm, just outside Glenrothes in Fife. From there, the first of his plans were put in motion with the purchase of a few pedigree in-lamb Suffolk females which were initially registered under the Lomondview prefix.

Three years later, and determined to have a superior quality, uniform flock of breeding females that would help propel him to the top of the tree, he bought Gary Beacom’s highly prized, show winning Lakeview flock from Northern Ireland, in a private deal last summer.

“I always wanted to have my own flock of pedigree Suffolks. I’m a traditionalist and there’s just something about Suffolk sheep,” said Stewart, who also works in the waste industry.

“I love the way the lambs are quick up on their feet and suckle and their growth rates are phenomenal. They’re also great sheep to work with,” he added.

Having worked with his own Suffolks for the past three years to include doing all the lambing, they are proving easier to manage than he expected too.

“The ewes are brilliant – they make great mothers with huge amounts of milk and they last well. They’ll easily produce four or five crops of lambs without any problems,” he said.

“I take four weeks off my work for lambing and I love it. Lambing isn’t difficult and there are never any major problems. Yes, you get the odd wee issue, but it’s great working with the ewes and their lambs when they’re so young,” Stewart said.

Having sold his first two tup lambs at Stirling last year for a very respectable 2000gns and 1600gns, Stewart and his shepherd, Peter Stubbs, who was the ‘luck penny’ of the Lakeview flock, having previously worked with Gary Beacom, have also had a bumper year for their first year in the show ring.

In May they won the reserve breed championship at Fife Show and just last month, they scooped the Suffolk championship at the Highland with a ewe which went on to stand honourary reserve in the inter-breed sheep competition. No stranger to the limelight, this cracker also won the NI championships last year.

Needless to say, the duo have high hopes for this year’s tup and female sales, especially with the breed back on ‘the up.’

Well aware of the previous issues within the breed before he bought his first females, Stewart has had quite a shock at just how easy Suffolks are to lamb and how quick the lambs are to suckle, after three years doing all his own lambing.

He added: “I know the breed went through a lull for a while, but I really think the Suffolk breed has evolved for the better and commercial producers are coming back to using Suffolk rams. There are not the same lambing problems or issues with lamb vigour there used to be, and you don’t get the udder problems with Suffolks compared to white-faced sheep breeds.

“Farmers also want a lamb that will finish quickly and easily off grass and a Suffolk will always be ready before any of the white-faced breeds. The growth rate of a Suffolk is unbeatable,” he added.

Backing up these statements is the fact that the first Suffolk lambs unsuitable for breeding were sold off the farm at the end of March at £112 per head through Stirling Market. These were born at the beginning of January.

While there is no doubting Stewart’s enthusiasm for the Suffolk breed, his devotion to his own flock and new farming business, has also seen him put up two cracking new sheds to accommodate the 100+ ewe flock at lambing time.

If that wasn’t enough to be going on with, he’s also done up the farm house, for Peter Stubbs and erected miles upon miles of new fencing for his new found lady friends.

And with such noted breeding females in his esteemed Lakeview flock to include the three times Balmoral Show champion, Queen of the Maze, which is still going strong at eight years of age? Along with the 2018 Balmoral Show champion, and their daughters, Stewart has been able to produce some of his best lambs to date for the ram sales at Shrewsbury, on July 20 and at United Auctions’ Stirling Centre on July 26.

The team enjoyed a successful flush from their top breeding females through Ovibreed too, with 65 lambs on the ground from the 70 singles put into recipient ewes.

These include sons of the joint 9000gns Birness Buckshot and Castleisle Attitude, a 5000gns joint purchase at Stirling, along with lambs by Strathisla Stoner; Strathbogie A Kind of Magic and Muirton One Direction.

“I’m looking to breed big strong commercial and pedigree sheep for both markets,” said Stewart.

“I like my Suffolks to have fine silky hair, but also a smart, moderate amount of bone and good tight coats. I also want to have good, sparky sheep full of breed character and sheep with a good eye,” he added.

As a result, Stewart believes he has the lambs for all markets, with 12 entered for the sale at National sale at Shrewsbury and a further six for the Scottish National a week later in Stirling. Stewart and Peter will also have a pen for the Kelso Ram sales.

On the female side of the equation, they aim to sell 10 gimmers at the Dark Diamonds sale at Carlisle in December, along with entries for Shrewsbury in November. Furthermore, they hope to sell a few ewes and gimmers at Longtown, later this month.

“I love my Suffolks and I love a challenge, so hopefully the big investment will start to make a return soon,” said Stewart, who also runs a few pedigree Aberdeen Angus cattle.

He also has high hopes for his two Angus bulls for the breed sales at Stirling in October too and the young bulls by the 12,000gns Gretnahouse Jack Eric, bought at Carlisle in May 2017, after standing reserve overall champion.

There’s no doubting our Stewart has set himself a real challenge, but with his grit determination, devotion and sheer enthusiasm, if anyone can make a go of breeding some of the best Suffolk sheep in the breed – he should. Failing that, he’ll certainly have had a cracking good time trying.

“The social side of breeding Suffolk sheep is second to none – the breeders are so helpful, friendly and welcoming which makes everything so much easier when you’re just starting out,” concluded Stewart.