In February 2001 Belfield Park imported 5 White Dorper ewes from South Australia as the foundation of our present flock, along with “Axis Spargo” who was the 2000 Royal Adelaide Show Champion Ram. Spargo was used extensively through our flock and while we retained some of his progeny, his genetics are spread throughout New Zealand.
At present we are breeding only White Dorpers as we have found them to be more sought after by our clients. The Blackheads are more attractive to lifestyle farmers than commercial farmers who are our main clients. The Blackheads have been phased out for now but who knows……..!
The ability of the Dorper sheep breed to produce high quality meat with minimum labour input makes the breed an attractive proposition for any farmer, be it commercial or lifestyle.
With shearing not necessary, a higher pest and disease tolerance, non-selective grazing and the ability to produce three lots of small, fast growing lambs within a two-year period, the Dorper is a sheep that is popular with both lifestyle and commercial farmers.
The development of the Dorper breed began in South Africa in the 1930’s. South African farmers were looking for a breed of sheep that would adapt to extensive conditions and the poor natural pastures in South Africa, which the more traditional English and European sheep breeds were failing to do.
The South African Department of Agriculture and a group of farmers decided to develop a new sheep breed able to produce a maximum number of lambs with good meat qualities and could be marketed directly off arid and extensive grazing conditions. The most successful cross was the Dorset Horn x Blackhead Persian, thus the Blackhead Dorper sheep was born.
The breed is fixed in type, ultimately, by the interbreeding of progeny from a 50:50 cross between the Blackhead Persian and the Dorset Horn. It was found through the various research trials held over the years that this cross produced the better animal overall.
White lambs were also born during the development of the Blackhead Dorper and this created the White Dorper, this breed being further developed with the utilisation of the Van Rooy sheep breed. It is a personal choice as to whether people breeds the Blackhead or White Dorper.
The Dorper has developed into a breed which is not only suited to the South African environment but is adaptable to a wide range of conditions throughout the world. It is today, numerically the second largest sheep breed in South Africa after the Merino, and is found through the Middle East, United States of America, Canada, Australia, South America and New Zealand.
The Dorper is primarily a mutton sheep, therefore it has excellent carcass conformation and fat distribution. Dorpers have a very high bodyweight-feed intake ratio, meaning they achieve maximum growth from little feed. The lambs grow rapidly and can attain a live weight of 36kg by the age of 3 – 4 months. These high weaning weights are possible as the lambs are able to graze at an early age.
Dorper meat is fine grained, tender, light coloured with a lean, even fat covering and can be marketed at a much older age which will still grade well.
As purebred Dorpers do not require chemical treatment for flystrike there is the possibility that Dorper meat could make inroads into organic lamb markets.
Dorpers are very hardy, non-selective grazers and are adaptable to a range of conditions. These inherent qualities have seen the Dorper in recent times move out of its traditional grazing grounds to more favourable areas where specialist lamb producers are using the breed to take advantage of its rapid response and feed conversion.
Not only do Dorpers thrive in areas of 150mm rain per annum, they can also be farmed in higher rainfall areas of 480 – 800mm where the pastures are vastly improved and the breed continues to exceed expectations.
The Dorper ewe is known for her high reproductive rates. The breed is fertile and has a long breeding season which is not seasonally limited. Under good management a Dorper ewe can lamb three times in two years, that’s a lambing interval of 8 months.
Lambing percentages of 150% are common but it can be as high as 180%. Multiple births are prevalent, but mainly in mature ewes.
Dorpers mature early, rams and ewes can be used in natural or embryo breeding programmes from 6-8 months of age.
Dorper ewes are very good mothers and is protective of their young. They have excellent maternal instincts with calm dispositions and are easy to handle. They produce large quantities of milk which aides in the lambs survival and early growth.
Purebred Dorpers do not necessarily need shearing, instead they have a light covering of hair and wool which will generally shed naturally. Some Dorpers will shed their entire fleece, some will shed some fleece and others will only shed a little amount. It is entirely up to the owner whether they wish to shear the animals to “tidy” them up. The fleece is of little value but can be sold through most wool buyers.
Basically the Dorper grows a “winter” coat so when the days begin to warm up in spring, each Dorper will respond individually to the environment and shed its fleece leaving it with a short hair covering for the summer months.
As the Dorper does not grow wool around its breech it is not prone to fly strike nor does it need crutching.
First cross Dorpers will require shearing, second crosses may need shearing but third crosses will possibly not need to be shorn (depending on the base breed they have been crossed with).
The biggest use of the Dorper breed in New Zealand is as a terminal sire.
When the Dorper is crossed with most commercial wool breeds, the resulting lamb can be up to 100% black in colour but can vary to a black and white spotty look. Whereas when the White Dorper is bred to most commercial wool sheep breeds, the offspring will generally be white. This is an excellent choice for the farmer planning on using a crossbreeding programme to move from wool production to meat production without undue colour variation in the animals.
Generally when crossbreeding with Dorpers, the resulting lambs will be cleaner around the points, belly etc. This can mean, depending on the base ewe breed, lambs can be sent to the works without having to be bellied or crutched, a saving for the farmer and on occasions farmers have be paid for the lambs going through ‘bellied’ when they haven’t even been touched! What can be better??!!