South African breed gains foothold

The self-shedding dorper breed is increasingly being used by commercial farmers as a terminal sire.
The self-shedding dorper breed is increasingly being used by commercial farmers as a terminal sire.

Self-shedding dorpers from South Africa are fast gaining a reputation as terminal sires to breed with first-time birthing ewes for smaller lambs which grow out quickly.

New Zealand Dorper Sheep Breeders Society vice-chairman Cristine Drummond said the dorpers had rapidly gained a foothold in New Zealand farming since their arrival 12 years ago.

She said the meat breed was increasingly used by commercial farmers as a terminal sire to be mated with hoggets, partly because of their growth rates of 400 grams a day.

"Our commercial farmers are buying them for hogget mating. They produce a small, fast-growing lamb, and for hoggets we don't want them to give birth to a large lamb. That would be our volume seller now and most of our rams are sold as sires for hogget lambing."

The dorpers are also valued for producing lightly marbled lean meat with good flavour, and unlike other meat breeds do not have a fat layer.

Drummond and her husband, Lindsay, run Belfield Park Stud in Ashburton and brought the first dorpers to New Zealand in 2000 with a group including Bill and Maureen Lott from Sunnyvale Stud at Fairlie. Today there are 44 registered breeders.

"We were paying big money to get them here, and wanted to bring in a different breed. They are a meat breed and we thought they would suit the conditions and climate here. Being a self-shedding breed they were lower maintenance at a time when wool returns were down and wool prices have dropped again."

The first dorpers, including embryos, semen and live animals, were from second-generation Australian animals with bloodlines from South Africa. The breed has two types - white dorpers and black-head dorpers - with both carrying the self shedding fibre which eliminates the need for shearing. Dorpers were originally crossed with a black-headed persian for mostly black-headed progeny, until South African breeders put van rooy bloodlines over them.

Drummond said there had been issues with footrot and scald, but breeders had made good progress correcting this after working with Lincoln University scientist Jon Hickford to do foot score testing

The Drummonds also breed white suffolks, a meat and wool breed commonly used as a terminal sire.

One of their ewes has produced 11 lambs in four years.

The white suffolk is the second largest terminal sire in Australia.