Poll Dorsets have long been a passion for the Douglas family, with Max Kenneth Douglas, 77, a third generation studmaster of Dorset sheep.
This year Max and his wife Coral, and their family, including children Shane, Julie, Brett and Marshall, will celebrate 40 years at Abelene Park. The Douglas family shifted to Tamworth and established the Abelene Park Poll Dorset Stud in 1977 at Duncan’s Creek.
“We have the four children, eight grandchildren and six great grandchildren,” Max said.
“Two of the boys, Marshall and Brett are at home on the farm, but all of the children and grandchildren really love it and show a lot of interest in the farm and the stud. I think it has a very bright future, they are very capable.”
Abelene Park, which stands for ‘place of green pastures’, is a long way from where Max was born and bred in 1939 in
Bendigo, Victoria, as one of eight children born to parents Kenneth and Irene Douglas. As a young boy Max grew up on the original family property at Woodstock West known as View Hill; farming sheep and growing crops including wheat and oats.
He attended the small local Woodstock school before leaving to work at home alongside his father. From a young age Max had always helped his father and grandfather Thomas Douglas with the sheep and farm work.
Thomas established a Dorset Horn Stud in 1935 which was called ‘View Hill’ at Woodstock West. He was big man who
had lost his right arm in a farming accident however continued working on the farm until 1942, before handing it to Kenneth and retiring to live in Kangaroo Flat.
Kenneth continued to work the View Hill property at Woodstock West with Max’s keen interest in Dorset Horns, leading them to develop the stud further. In 1958 Kenneth and Max decided to expand the stud to include the Poll Dorset breed with a purchase of the ram Timberlea 31 /1957 and 33 Dorset Horn ewes.
In 1961 the Woodstock West property was sold to a Douglas cousin and Kenneth and Max purchased a smaller property with irrigation at Eddington situated on the Loddon River, about 24 kilometres away. This property was then called ‘View Hills’.
The View Hills stud was very successful throughout the 1960s with the 1960 Dorset Horn show team winning 18 out of a possible 20 championships at shows from Albury to Melbourne.
It was an incredible first year of showing for Max and Kenneth, culminating at the Melbourne Royal Show where they won the novice ram and ewe class then winning the open classes, before taking out both ram and ewe champions.
“It was an incredible year, we won a lot of ribbons,” Max said.
Max met Coral in Melbourne and they were married in 1962. During the years at Eddington Max judged many small country shows and was well known and respected for his knowledge of the Dorset breed.
On the retirement of Max’s father Kenneth, the View Hills stud was dispersed in 1973, Max and his family moved to Oberon to manage the Karawina Poll Dorset Stud owned by the Dickson family.
On arrival to Oberon Max and members of the Dickson family attended the Poll Dorset Stud dispersals of Marylebone &
Linsbury, to purchase sheep for the Karawina stud. With Max’s expertise and knowledge of breeding, Karawina progressed to be one of Australia’s top studs within four years.
“I went to Karawina Stud when dad sold the place in Victoria and we had a lot of success there, all up we were there for just on four years,” Max said.
“In our second year, we won the Sydney Championship. I was also nominated and won an award in the local area for Farmer of the Year, I was judging in Tasmania at the time, so I wasn’t able to attend the awards dinner but it was quite an honour especially as I was still quite young at the time.
“It gets very cold in Oberon. In the second year I was there we switched from lambing from the first of September to August, which I believed was warmer. That year we were very lucky and had a beautiful run of weather in August, but then in September we had terrible storms and cold weather and tens of thousands of lambs in the district died.
Luckily because I had switched lambing to earlier our lambs were a bit older and able to withstand the terrible conditions.”
Max has judged at every Royal Show in Australia including Melbourne Royal Show three times, while it was the largest Poll Dorset sheep show of the time; those years being 1974, 1981, & 2000. The shorn ram class in 1981 holds the record number of entries in one class, at 81 rams.
“It was a 9.15am start and a 6pm finish at the Royal, and you had to figure out how to judge 500 sheep within that time,” Max said.
“Seeing a line-up of 81 sheep which you then have to judge is a big task, but I always look to pick a sheep I like, and that I’d like to take home. The legs and feet of a sheep are so important, they must stand up well. If the legs are not right then the sheep can’t walk. I also believe it’s highly hereditary. The legs and feet rules out a lot of sheep. The topline is also very important.
There’s never been a perfect sheep but there’s certainly been ones that have come very close.” He last judged at a Royal Show at the Royal Adelaide Show, more than a decade ago.
In 2002 Abelene Park held annual on-property sales and in 2005 commenced with two on-property sales per year; which are normally held in February and September.
Successes of the Abelene Park Poll Dorset Stud over the years, includes:
• Melbourne Royal Show 2002 top price ram $8500 & top average for three rams
• Australasian Dorset Show Bendigo 2010 top price ram $13,500 & top average for three rams
• Australasian Dorset Show Bendigo 2016 top price ram $24,000 & top average for three rams again
“I’ve had a lot of success but breeding and selling the ram we sold for $24,000 last year has been a highlight,” Max said. “He was a very hard ram to fault.”
Max was proud to be on the Committee for the Australasian Dorset Show Bendigo since it was first formed in 2008 until retiring in 2016.
Max and his family continue to support this major Poll Dorset exhibition in Bendigo with the best of their show team every year, along with NSW Championships.
“I was born and bred in Bendigo, and I’m really proud to have been involved with the Australasian Dorset Show for so long. It’s a beautiful show,” he said.
Max has long been highly involved with assisting young people with skills at schools and junior sheep judging as well as helping newer studs starting out.
“We did a lot with helping to set-up and organise the young judges’ competitions run through the Tamworth Show,” he said.
“One year we had up to 300 young judges competing in the sheep classes.”
A local school, Tocal College, regularly visits Abelene Park as part of their annual farm production tour.
“For the past 21 years we’ve been doing this, having up to 30-40 students come out and have a look at what we do. Coral always has a few special cakes and treats for them when they visit,” Max said.
“We make sure they get out and put their hands on the sheep so they can learn. It’s good fun and they are all bonza kids, every one of them.
“Back when I was young, I would have killed for that sort of advice – I really enjoy getting among the young people and talking to them.
“When I was growing up it was very difficult to get anyone to tell you anything about preparing or showing a sheep, you had to learn it all yourself, there was one fellow when I was young at Albury Show who took a liking to me, I learnt a lot from him in just a couple of days and it made me realise how important it was to be able to help out others looking to get a start.”
Among some of the 100s of people Max has helped, or given showing tips to, include Graham Gilmore from Tattykeel, now a very successful show competitor and studmaster.
Max said he advised someone interested in starting a Poll Dorset stud to find a mentor.
“You need someone to help get you started,” he said.
“Find yourself someone who can help and who is willing to encourage you.
“Then you need the right sheep to start. I am always very strict on legs and feet with animals as if they don’t walk good, then they won’t sell good.
“You have to start on good sheep and learn what to look for. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
“It’s a bit of fun and I love it – I’m always striving to breed the perfect sheep.”