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The Right Sheep For You.

So you are interested in getting into Dorper Sheep.

The slick entrepreneurial Dorper Breeder talks you into spending a fortune buying the best stud ewes and a ram to go with them. Now this solution is the best for some people but not all.

You have options

Breed Stud Dorper Sheep

Even with low maintenance breeds of sheep, stud sheep breeding requires a lot of work, knowledge and the right infrastructure.

Points for consideration if you are thinking of setting up a Dorper stud.

  • Love of the breed.
  • First and foremost a preference and love of the breed is imperative. If you don't really like the sheep, nor believe in their potential then you will not make a success of a stud Dorper operation.
  • Situation of property. It is not much good running a stud hundreds of miles from your potential markets. Many Dorper Stud breeders in NSW have had to quit their Dorper studs and change to White Dorper studs as the biggest meat processor in NSW doesn't like exotic sheep breeds (as he also has a large wool scouring plant), but especially doesn't like coloured exotic breeds of sheep.
  • Quality of grazing.Stud animals will need to look in tip top condition.
  • Supplementary feed. The production potential of property or accessibility to a source of supplementary feed supply. This is necessary once again so that stud animals can be kept in top condition.
  • Good stock water supply. Once again animals need to be well watered in order to maintain top condition.
  • Good handling, yarding and if necessary shedding facilities. These will be necessary for the frequent yarding and handling of animals that needs to be done with stud stock.
  • Good subdivision. Subdivision of the property into several paddocks is required. This is necessary so that rams and ewes can be kept apart unless the stud master puts them together for breeding purposes. The studmaster needs to know the parentage of all lambs born to run the stud properly.
  • Record keeping. The studmaster must be prepared to keep detailed and precise records for each animal from the time of the dam's mating with a particular stud ram. In many cases for records to be accurate, this requires tagging all lambs as they are born; a time consuming job, even with smaller numbers of sheep.
  • Financial resources. You must have access to a fairly substantial amount of money, especially in the beginning, in order to finance the initial purchase of the quality stud stock which will form the basis of your stud. Spending money on quality stock is a good investment at this stage. If you think to save money by buying lesser quality stock at bargain basement prices, think again. Such behaviour will probably prove to be a poor investment in the long run as lesser animals will probably prove to be more difficult to sell if not unsaleable.
  • Long term investment. Stud breeding is a long term investment, so if you are looking to make a "quick buck", think again!
  • Willingness to learn. A stud breeder must be willing to continually work to improve and develop his flock. To this end he must be willing to learn, broaden his knowledge and keep abreast of new trends both with his chosen breed and within the sheep industry in general.

    Breeding program. The studmaster needs to set breeding aims and develop a breeding program which will enable him to achieve those aims. Good skills will be necessary in planning, decision making and and care of animals, to enable the breeding program to be implemented in such a way as to be successful.

  • Good communication skills. The studmaster will also have to have good communication skills in order to be able to deal successfully with prospective customers.
  • Society membership and animal registrations. It will be necessary to join the breed society (Dorper Sheep Society of Australia Inc)and then pay the annual membership fee to remain a member of the society. Animal registrations cost $6.60 per animal. Animal transfers (required when animals are sold from one breeder to another) cost $6.60 per animal. All animal registrations and transfer are done through the Breed Society.
  • Downgrade inferior animals. Be aware that not all offspring of stud animals will be of stud quality. This is a trap that I have seen many small studs in other breeds fall into. They have kept all rams lambs and tried to sell them off as stud sires, thus putting the genetics of inferior animals into the breed and downgarding the breed. Those breeders who are working hard at breed development will be especially hard on their stock and only the very best will be deemed to be stud quality animals. Other animals will be either sold as commercial animals, castrated or sold as culls into the meat market. For the posterity of a breed this is the way it should be.

If you think that you have the requirements to be a successful stud Dorper breeder then you need to proceed slowly. You need to learn as much as possible about the breed, and what characteristics to look for in quality animals before you invest in the best stud animals that you can afford. If done well a stud Dorper operation can be both personally satisfying and financially rewarding.

Run a Flock of commercial purebred Dorper Sheep

Commercial or flock purebred Dorpers are purebred animals which come without stud papers. Commercial purebred Dorper sheep are often sheep which are the progeny of stud Dorpers which have not been been accepted into the stud flock. The quality of commercial Dorpesr may vary from one flock to another. The quality will depend upon how hard the studmaster is upon his stud flock. It might be interesting to ask why the animals have been deemed to be of commercial quality. If it is for purely cosmetic reasons eg. too much white on the head of a Dorper or ginger colour on a White Dorper, then the animals may be of a very high quality.

The commercial Dorper flock requires less financing than a Stud flock. The initial money outlaid to purchase stock will be far less for a start. There is a lot less work involved in running a commercial purebred flock of Dorper sheep, for less paperwork and meticulous recording of individual animal data is required. As the animals are not stud recorded, there is no need to belong to Breed Society, saving the cost of annual membership fees, nor is there any requirement to register animals (presently $6.60 per animal) in the breed Society Stud Book.

There are now large numbers of good Commercial Dorper and White Dorper rams available for purchase. The cost of these rams, in most cases, is now quite reasonable also. Commercial ewes are in demand and more difficult to access. In recent years Dorper and White Dorper sheep breeders have taken advantage of the opportunity to sell their ewes in large numbers to China and other lucrative overseas markets. Hence the price of all purebred ewes has remained high. Most producers are asking $700 - $800 for good sound young commercial ewes. Even at this high price ,these animals soon pay for themselves as they require few inputs and their numbers build quickly. You will soon have animals to sell at these sort of prices yourself.

Run a Flock of commercial crossbred Dorper Sheep or Dorper Upgrades.

Some farmers have overcome the problem of the lack of availability of Dorper ewes by using Purebred Dorper rams over ewes of other breeds. Some are producing the crossbred lambs purely for the meat market, whilst others are keeping the ewes lambs and continuing crossing back to a Dorper ram (upgrading). These crossbred ewes (also known as upgrades) are becoming quite sort after: some types of crosses (upgrades) more so than others.

There are large numbers of Merino / Dorper and White Dorper cross sheep in Western Australia, South Australia and New South Wales. This is because farmers in those areas purchased Dorper and White Dorper rams and used them with their existing ewe flocks. The Crossbred lambs have performed well for these farmers. Where in the past they would have had great difficulty turning off a lamb into the meat market, they can now do so.

However the best type of crosses are arrived at by crossing with meat type breeds of sheep. Suffolk and White Suffolk produce particularly good Dorper and White Dorper Cross lambs. In my opinion the best cross is the Wiltshire Horn / Dorper or Wiltshire Horn / White Dorper. This is the cross which we have been doing for several years now , and one which never fails to impress us.

There are numerous advantages of this cross over others.

  • Most Wiltshire Horn ewes are excellent shedding sheep; that is they shed their wool cleanly (all over as if they have been shorn). You do get some Wiltshire Horns that don't shed their wool all that well (woolly types), however on the whole the breed is an excellent shedding breed. This is because stud breeders have put emphasis upon this characteristic as being one of importance to the breed (it is a characteristic upon which Dorper stud breeders should also focus in the opinion of this author).

    Using a Wiltshire Horn ewe upon which to base a breeding up (upgrading) program or a crossbred Dorper flock therefore makes a lot of sense, as the ewes and all of the progeny will be easy care. If you use woolly breeds of ewes as a basis for your crossbred flock (or upgrading flock) you are still going to have to shear,crutch and maybe watch for flystrike the progeny of at least the first few crosses.

  • Wiltshire Horn ewes like Dorper sheep have multiple births, so your flock size increases fairly rapidly.

  • The secret is out about how good the Wiltshire X Dorper ewes are , so they are in demand and which makes it easy to sell excess stock for good money to people interested in breeding these sheep.

  • The Wiltshire Horn and indeed the Wiltshire X Dorper ewes are excellent milkers and very good mothers, hence all lambs grow quickly. While it is difficult to turn a purebred Wiltshire Horn lamb off at weaning into the meat market, this is not the case with the crossbred lambs. Even in these difficult times of drought, we have weaned crossbred wether lambs with live weights of 31- 40+ kg at ages of 11-16 weeks of age.

  • Like the Dorpers, the Wiltshire Horn Ewes are long lived and will keep on producing and rearing lambs in old age.

  • The Wiltshire Horns seem to be able to cope with a variety of climatic conditions. However they do require better nutrition in order to thrive than do the Dorper sheep. In a harsh environment it may be advisable to start with first or second cross ewes (from a Wiltshire Horn base) and use a Purebred ram to produce a second or third cross lamb.

Dorper upgrade ewe ( 2nd cross) with 3rd cross lamb.

Dorper Sheep Or White Dorper Sheep...the choice is yours.

We have chosen the Dorper over the White Dorper sheep as we have found them to be a better sheep, both as purebred sheep and as crossbreds. We had higher weaning rates with the Dorpers & found the lambs to be faster growing and therefore able to be turned off at an earlier age than the White Dorpers. The Dorpers had better feet than the White Dorpers; the White Dorpers seeming to require quite a bit of foot trimming to keep their feet in order. The Dorpers also seemed to us, to be hardier animals.

We initially sold lambs for slaughter over the hooks. In this way the meat buyers got to know what the sheep were and how well they dressed out & any prejudice associated with colour & different looking sheep was nipped in the bud. Unless buyers (or stock agents for that matter) have had a lot of experience weighing Dorpers & Dorper cross lambs they will underestimate their weights. Dorpers & Dorper Crosses are chunky, very solid animals & the uneducated are usually surprised by their meat yields. Hence by selling them over the hooks (by carcass weight) you avoid the often inaccurate guesstimate of weight made at the saleyards.

When considering whether you'll have Dorper or White Dorper sheep you need to consider the markets you wish to supply. The NSW Dorper breeders who quit their Dorpers were faced with this situation. They realized that it is a waste of your time and effort breeding animals that you will have difficulty selling when they reach a marketable state. Fortunately most Australian meat processors & buyers just want good quality carcasses and are not fussed about the colour of the animal skins.

Lastly, to be successful, it helps if need to like the animals that you are working with. So for you, if there are no restrictions on which you should choose, the Dorper or the White Dorper, choose the one you like best.