What started as a Tasmanian Junior Farmer project has turned into more than half a decade of breeding, and an Australian Poll Dorset Association Life Membership for Julian Iles.
The principal of Killara Poll Dorsets, Sorell, Tasmania, began breeding Poll Dorsets in 1963, first on his father’s farm, then alongside his brothers with wife Del, and then with Del and daughter Ellen.
“When I was about 16 and in Junior Farmers we had to have a project, so I started breeding some Ryelands and then moved to Poll Dorsets - they were going to be the breed of the future,” Julian said.
He’s still a big believer in the breed, both of the impact they are having now and well into the future, referring to Poll Dorsets as “the top meat sheep breed in Australia”
“Since I have been breeding Poll Dorsets they have changed tremendously - in the future, there will be even more changes. Look back to Poll Dorsets when they started and what they look like now and see the difference in the breed,” he said.
Julian believes it is crucial the breed maintains its diverse gene pool to keep the top spot.
“It is important Poll Dorsets have a big enough pool of genetics that they can make any
changes within the breed and don’t have to bring in other breeds - and risk not even making any improvement with them anyway).
Now running 80 Poll Dorset ewes, Julian said studs are managed differently now, but the aim of the game hasn’t changed.
“When it all boils down to it it’s money really - if you aren’t making money don’t be in it. We now have a faster growing animal that gives you a bigger return per hectare
He adds that key traits that have improved are growth rate, type, and ease of lambing.
“Years ago a lot of people almost slept with their sheep because they were short necked and big shouldered, but now that has all changed. One of the other reasons Poll Dorsets are so dominant is they have better skin then a lot of other british breeds - , I know skin values aren't worth much at the moment but they have been good. And their wool type is good for products such as doonas because it is springy and doesn’t go flat, so that is an advantage for the Poll Dorsets as well.”
Increased export has been one of the biggest lamb industry advancements over the years according to Julian, which has meant there is a market for more than one type of sheep.
“There is a market for extra heavy lambs sold overseas - our last lot of lambs last year sold to Australian Lamb Company for $300. But then there is a market for lighter lamb as well - a market for every type now, light, trade and heavy - which is good. There are also more lambs sold over the hooks then what it was 50 years ago, which is good for the industry. We must continue to breed the type of sheep that produces meat, as eventually we will be paid for animals on yield, and that will be another change in the industry.”
Julian said there’s a place for all breeds but Poll Dorsets have plenty of advantage to capitalise on.
They are early maturing for the sucker market, but can also be held over to the following year and sold as hoggets - and their constitution is hardier than other breeds - when the drought breaks they are often faster than other breeds to respond and still grow on.”
Looking back over a lifetime of Poll Dorset breeding achievements, Julian has been a regular champion winner on the show mat - but it is the rams he ended up keeping on that he classifies as real highlights.
“We used to send sheep to Perth to show (and sell) - the agents would look after our sheep over there we didn’t go, and one year we had a ram destined for Perth who we called Long John because at that stage he was one of the longest Poll Dorsets in the State. He happened to get a lump on his testicle which meant he stayed at home and it was the best thing that ever happened. He bred on and changed our type from there forward. It might have been a bad decision to intend to sell him in the first place, but luck goes your way and it was to our advantage.”
Julian was pivotal in the introduction of the WFI Champion of Champions competition held in 2019 (and to return when shows recommence), which judged the top ribbon winners from across the country against each other at the Australasian Dorset Championships. He says you are never too old to learn, no matter what you are invested in.
“You’ve got to be willing to learn as a young breeder, always listen but you’ve got to make the decision yourself. I’ve told young breeders that are just starting they have got to make up their mind what type of sheep you want to breed and go for it. You can get advice, but never chase ribbons - just because a sheep has won a championship doesn’t mean that is the animal you require - just know what type of sheep you want and what suits your environment.”
Julian said he was very surprised and humbled to be honoured with an APDA Life membership, and thanked the Tasmanian branch, the board and all members.
“Being a member of the Poll Dorset association you meet people from all over Australia, and you make friends that you would never do in other activities. Exhibiting at Melbourne, Bendigo, Australasian, those friendships last for life, which is an experience you wouldn’t get without having the stud. To join the life membership list, when you look at it, it is a real privilege. The founding breeders certainly got it right with the Poll Dorset breed, and we are indebted to them.”