The Dorper Sheep: A Hardy Adaptable Breed

Is Dorper Sheep Farming Profitable?

The Dorper Sheep: A Hardy Adaptable Breed

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Would you like to raise Dorper sheep, one of the fastest growing breeds in the United States and many other countries? There is good reason for the popularity of the Dorper sheep breed. Originally bred in early 1940s, Dorper sheep are a cross from Dorset horned rams and Blackhead Persian ewes. As with many cross breeds, the Dorper concentrated the best qualities of each breed.

Dorper sheep farming is a result of the breed being developed in South Africa. The South African farmers began developing a new breed and were attempting to compete with the lambs exported from New Zealand. The market buyers were not impressed with the quality of the exports. The result was the Dorper breed.

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Blackhead Persian Ewes

The Blackhead Persian breed that was chosen as the maternal side by the South African farmers, brought a hardiness and excellent fertility to the relationship. Since Blackhead Persians were from an arid environment, they were easy grazers. These sheep would browse similarly to goats and were not picky. The Blackhead Persian breed was used to harsh conditions. The Dorper breed adapts to both hot and cold weather without issue. In addition, the ewes breed easily, and it is possible to breed every eight months. This allows for the possibility of three lambings over a two-year span.

Blackhead Persian sheep lying on grass with her lamb. (adobestock image)

Adding the Ram

The ram choice for the breed development was a Dorset Horned sheep. The Dorset breed is also highly fertile and adaptable to hot conditions. Dorsets are easy keepers and graze happily on what is available. The Dorset Horned sheep is a non-seasonal breeder, meaning they don’t just breed in the fall. Mixing the non-seasonal breeding ability with the high fertility of the Blackhead Persian, bred offspring that were capable of breeding every eight months. The Dorset also brought a well-muscled quality to the cross.

Dorper and White Dorper Sheep—What’s the Difference?

Early on in the breed’s development, a disagreement came about because some breeders thought the Dorpers should be solid white. Other breeders thought the black head and markings from the Blackhead Persian should be standard in the breed. By 1964 the agreement was settled by accepting both into the standard. The Dorper refers to the blackhead variety and the White Dorper refers to the all white sheep.  The breed association now recognizes both the Dorper and White Dorper sheep.

Shedding Ability of Dorper Sheep

Since the Blackhead Persian sheep are a hair breed and the Dorset Horned are a wool breed, how do the Dorper sheep shed out? Since the Dorper has characteristics of both breeds, the hair sheep potential is across the spectrum on shedding versus needing to be sheared. Some breeders have found the subsequent generations begin to lean more to the hair sheep characteristics. In many cases, breeders report that the hair and sheds from the belly and legs, leaving only the body that needs shearing.

Introducing Dorper Sheep into a Flock

Breeders have introduced Dorper rams into other lines, such as Katahdin sheep and Texel, with good results. Introducing the Dorper rams into a strong flock of ewes in a strict breeding program can yield even stronger offspring and better quality meat. The characteristics of fast growth, nonseasonal breeding, and mild tasting meat are easily attained by adding the Dorper sheep to a flock.

What do Dorper Sheep Need on a Farm?

Dorper sheep are hardy and easy to keep. Because of their ability to adapt to both extremes of hot and cold weather, the breed requires very little. Left on pasture for most of the year seems to be the norm for most farms. In addition to good sheep fencing, run-in sheds for shelter should be available. The run-in shed provides a windbreak and shelter from freezing rain and snow. All sheep breeds require a source of fresh drinking water. This can be provided by either a trough that is refilled frequently or a natural body of fresh water.

Worming and Health Care

The Dorper breed requires the same care as any other sheep breeds. They lamb easily for the most part. Extra assistance in that department is minimal. Most sheep require worming or parasite control. If you are raising organic meat, the Dorper is a good choice because they are more tolerant of intestinal parasites than some other breeds.

Meat Production

The meat produced from a Dorper flock seems very popular. The evidence points to mild taste with little mutton flavor at all. Breeders report that even older culled ewes can be sold for meat. This is important when raising a breed for market. Most lambs can reach market weight of 80 to 90 pounds at around four months of age. Mature rams range in weight from 240 pounds to 275 pounds. The Dorper ewes range from 150 to 200 pounds mature weight.

Fertility, great feed conversion, and adaptability to weather conditions have helped the Dorper sheep breed rise in popularity among sheep farmers. Dorpers are the fastest growing breed in many countries including the United States and Canada.
Do you raise Dorpers or another hardy cross breed of sheep? Tell us about the breed in the comments section below.

Dorper Meat – The Meat of Choice

Dorper lamb is naturally lower in fat than most lamb.  The meat is leaner and milder than imported lamb.  You’ll find the texture and flavor is a delight!  Try one of these great recipes today!

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2 thoughts on “The Dorper Sheep: A Hardy Adaptable Breed”
  1. I raise red Masai sheep as a maternal line and Somali Black head as a Ram, very encouraging results from the kids.

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