WHEN Ellie McDonald was 12 years old, she decided she wanted to start her own sheep stud.
Her family were broadacre farmers, with no experience in the stud world.
However, eight years later Hopea Suffolk and White Suffolk Stud at Dadswell Bridges is thriving.
Ellie, 20, started with suffolks in 2011 and expanded to white suffolks in 2013.
She has single-handedly built the business up over the years and is now enjoying commercial success.
"No one else in my family has a stud, so it was bloody hard work at the start," she said.
"My dad bought me some suffolk-cross ewes and it grew from there."
She now has about 100 suffolk ewes and 120 white suffolk ewes. She also has about 60 rams.
Her family has land at Dadswells Bridge and Wonwondah, which is mostly used for cropping. They also runs a few merino ewes for fat lambs each year.
Ellie said running a stud had its ups and downs, but she loved it.
"The first year I put a ram out and didn't get a lamb - it's been hard over the years, but there are more ups than downs," she said.
"I've always loved farming and sheep - when I was younger we had land out at Lower Norton and I always liked looking after animals and sowing little crops myself."
Ellie is one of three girls in her family.
She said growing up, people used to ask her father who would take over the family farm in the future, as he only had daughters.
But Ellie was always up for the challenge, and she now works full time on the farm as well as running her stud.
"Dad never thought he would get a farmer, but out of his daughters he got a farmer, a teacher and a nurse - I couldn't imagine myself doing anything else," she said.
Ellie chose suffolks and white suffolks because of the demand for them in the region.
"White suffolks are the most popular with farmers, but people are slowly getting into suffolks as well," she said. "They are a good size and if you put a suffolk with a merino, you get a really fast growing lamb.
"I sell a lot of suffolks to hobby farmers as well - they are good looking sheep."
Hopea's ewes lamb from June to August each year, meaning Ellie has been constantly tagging and looking after lambs for the past few months.
She said despite some cold days this month, the weather had generally been perfect for lambing.
Between June and July, she would get about 15 to 20 lambs born a day, but it has slowed now.
So far she has 150 white suffolk lambs and 120 suffolk lambs, with still more to come.
"It's a lot of work to run the stud and there are always things to do," she said.
"There are certain times when we are busier on the farm too.
"At the moment we are building a shed and then shearing will be the next job - it never stops."
Ellie studying an Advance Diploma of Agriculture and Agribusiness Management at Longerenong College.
She completed her studies last year and was awarded dux of her course.
Ellie said what she liked most about her work was the variety. "I could be crutching one day and driving the tractor the next," she said.
She said one of the hardest parts was seeing lambs not survive. "I hate having to kill lambs - it is such a waste of a life," she said.
"I get too attached to them and you put a lot of work into trying to get them going."
Recently, Ellie spent $10,000 on a ram.
"I never thought I would ever spend that much money on a ram, but it's really paid off," she said.
She has nearly made that money back through selling the ram's semen.
"He's paid for himself," she said.
Ellie has done a lot of work over the years to develop her livestock and industry knowledge.
"Lots of people from other studs have helped me, but there are so many things to learn and tricks of the trade," she said.
Recently, Ellie had success at the Australian Sheep and Wool Show at Bendigo and Sheepvention at Hamilton.
She said in the past she had also gone to the the Elite White Suffolk and Suffolk Show and Sale, but the event always clashed with netball finals and Ellie plays for Noradjuha-Quantong.
At the Australian Sheep and Wool Show this year, she won the August drop suffolk ram category and the novice white suffolk ewe category.
She also placed second in the July drop suffolk ram category and second in the novice white suffolk ram category.
At Sheepvention, Hopea Stud won a number of categories, including July ewe, August ewe, novice ram and novice ewe.
Ellie said at shows, she would see many breeders who had been in the industry for a long time and wouldn't get too excited about winning.
"Some people win ribbons all the time, but I was so excited when I won," she said.
Ellie believes going to shows is a great way to get her name out there.
"I'm trying to build up a regular customer base," she said.
She sells her livestock privately from September.
In the past she has sold to people as far as Phillip Island and Kangaroo Island.
In the future, she hopes to be able to have an annual on-property sale, instead of privately selling.
Ellie's dream is for Hopea to one day be one of the leading studs in Australia.
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