Story told by Frank Badcock
Fairbank Southdowns started in 1922 you might say as a result of an accident. My father Vern, at the time a young teenager was kicked in the head by a horse and as a result had a plate inserted in his forehead. Advised not to play sport his father suggested a sheep stud. He himself was already a successful breeder of English Leicesters as was his father before him.
The story is told that Frank (my grandfather) sent Vern (my father) off to the Launceston Show with a neighbour and to be sure to get the Leicester results. Vern returned with only the Southdown results. This began a lifelong interest in the breed and went on the become his primary source of income for the next fifty years and for the most part was the largest flock in Tasmania reaching at times over 500 ewes.
The initial sheep came from the old and established local Boucher’s “Cliston” flock. My grandfather had the initial pick of the lamb drop but had to also take their mothers whatever they were. Three rams and thirty one ewes were selected. Part of the payment was arranged by barter as my grandfather had a particularly keen hack horse that took the fancy of the Boucher family. The sheep were delivered the four or so miles back to Fairbank on horse drawn carriage.
Showing began almost immediately with five Champion Rams and four Champion Ewe awards at the Royal Melbourne Show up until 1932 when my grandfather passed away. Through the thirties Melbourne Royal and Sheep Show, Sydney, Adelaide and Hobart were regular on the show and sale calendar. Serious showing continued until about 1952 when my father backed off a little but did take some smaller teams to Melbourne up to 1958.
Significant demand for Southdown rams Australia-wide saw many of our rams sold at Newmarket through the 1960’s and 1970’s. Rams were sold at Newmarket from just before Christmas to the end of February, selling up to 15 a week. Initially rams went by boat, in the 1950’s-1960’s by aeroplane and from the 1960’s direct from farm to Newmarket on well known Page Transport. Special flock rams were a feature of Newmarket sales from the early 1900’s to about 1970. After World War II for a number of years selected sales (Nov-Feb) had a show section for a pen of 5 rams and single stud rams were also catered for. These sales were run and inspected by the Victorian branches of the British Breeds and Corriedales. It was not uncommon for stud dispersals to be conducted at the conclusion of these sales.
When I left school I started showing again and since 1964 we have had a show team prepared every year except one. Mid 1960-1980 saw rams taken to the Perth Royal. Cluden Newry, Clear Hills, Lyngrove, Lovely Valley and Kentish Downs were showing there also from interstate. Western Australia was a significant market for Southdowns from the 1950-1980’s where Fairbank sold several drafts of over 100 rams. Border Leicester and later Poll Dorset rams were also in demand to the West during this era. We continued showing at Melbourne until mid 1990 returning for the feature breed in 2016. We have exhibited at all the Southdown Nationals at Geelong Royal and are now regulars at Bendigo Sheep and Wool Show.
In the 1930’s rams were imported from New Zealand (Punchbowl) and England (Luton Hoo) and other English rams purchased at dispersal sales from other studs as proven rams. In the 1970’s and 80’s a number of rams were imported from New Zealand studs Punchbowl, Baloonie and Gatton Park, while more recently semen purchases from Willowhaugh, Clifton Downs, Merrydowns and Mapua have been used. My father also told me to keep your best rams. This is something we have always endeavoured to do. Keeping top sons from well proven sire lines allows genetic progress to be made. The mark of a good breeder is to have progeny that are better than themselves.
The New Zealand influence from the 1970’s no doubt gave the breed increased length and was a major contributor to what we now call the modern Southdown. There was certainly nothing wrong with the shorter thicker type prior to that era as that was what the market demanded at the time. As markets change, us as breeders also need to adapt and change which is what we did.
Shows are important socially as well as helping to maintain good structure in your flock. These shows have traditionally been used as a tool to benchmark our flock against the best sheep in the country. Importantly it is not just about comparisons between your own breed but also the other breeds and breeders and learning from what they are doing well. As we have evolved, Lambplan has now become an essential tool for the discerning ram buyer. Buyers expect us as stud breeders to have the structure and conformation right and to have already removed from selection any animals not at the expected standard. Lambplan figures are then used to select the rams that suit their specific requirements. We feel that going forward buyers are seeking more data and not just the ram buyer but the consumer of the end product. Therefore we feel that Lambplan, genomics and eating quality will become a bigger component of the selection criteria going forward. The challenge as stud producers is to ensure we are making progress in these areas and to not compromise any of the physical attributes that many of us have been working on for decades.
Record keeping is also vital for stud breeding. While technology has replaced the dozens of shoe boxes of pedigrees and ram registrations I have accumulated over the years, keeping good records to enable the sound judgement of animal selection in particular at joining time remains important. Focussing on structure should always be the priority as once you have structure you can work on the other aspects. If you work on the other aspects first it can be very hard to fix any structural problems or faults. It could take many years.
We currently have a Southdown stud of about 180 ewes along with two other breeds, joining around 750 stud ewes annually. We have conducted 15 annual on-property sales offering around 180 rams including 70 Southdown rams and periodically also offer young ewes.
With 100 years of Southdown breeding approaching in two years time I am proud the Fairbank stud is now in the capable hands of the fourth generation son Christopher or Chris as you know him and who knows maybe even a fifth generation.