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November 2005

All About Dorpers and Other Things

1. Dorper History

In the 1930’s, the South Africans decided they needed a meat sheep able to produce a good export carcass in tough dry conditions. They started by using snooty imported mutton rams over hardy but loose local lassies. They found that this could be done successfully as long as the “hardy” content did not fall below 50%. However, this cross breeding required a steady stream of suitable pure bred rams and ewes. Also, because of the very diverse genetics between the parents, there would have been a wide variation in the offspring. So it was decided to develop a pure stable breed from Dorset Horn rams and Blackhead Persian ewes. Thus the DOR-PER was developed and the first breed society was established in 1950.

This breed was very successful, with a good carcass and hardy constitution. But success, breed societies and show rings always bring problems – there is always someone openly or secretly trying to “improve” the breed by slipping a little bit of this or that into the blood lines. And in the show rings, selection criteria are forced to shift from the very practical commercial criteria on which the breed was developed. Instead of selecting for hardiness, fertility, mothering ability, shedding and resistance to parasites and predators, the judges start looking at secondary things such as body shape and colour. (That is all you can see in the show ring, so show animals are judged by appearances – colour and how well they have been shorn, groomed and fed).

2. Dorpers and White Dorpers.

Some South African breeders did not appreciate more black faces, so they decided they would like a white “dorper”. It is hard to get a white sheep using Black Head Persians, so a bit of the white Van Rooy sheep was slipped into the blood lines. The white sheep was initially called a “Dorian” and the White Dorper Society was formed in 1959. However in 1964, the two societies merged – one society, two breeds - “Dorpers” and “White Dorpers”.

Considering this history, it seems clear that no matter what the breeders or the breed societies say, Dorpers and White Dorpers are different breeds of sheep – the White Dorper has different genetic origins, and more emphasis on colour in the development of the breed. There is little if any interbreeding.

Sherana has decided to go with the (black headed) dorper, for a few reasons. Firstly, because it is closer to the original hardy animal that started the breed. Secondly, it has been a developed breed for longer. That should mean it is more prepotent, with more concentrated genetics – ie there is a better chance that offspring will resemble their parents, and selection of breeding animals is more predictable. Thirdly, the black skin is better for skin cancer, an important consideration for the northern half of Australia. Finally, White Dorpers generally cost more – maybe twice or three times the price.

So, if you have soft irrigated pastures in Victoria, with upper class, all-white Stud Merino breeders next door, by all means go with white dorpers, and maybe the merino men will not notice. But for the battlers in outback and northern Australia, stick to the hardier breed with black heads - they are real Dorpers.


3. Dorpers, Wool and Tails

Dorpers are described as “hair sheep”. But unlike damaras, they do have a wool component in their genetic background (from Dorset Horn). However, for decades, dorper breeders have been selecting for good shedders. A good dorper nowadays sheds well on their legs, belly and behind, but leaves a blanket on their back. This blanket provides some protection from sun, cold and biting insects. We have never seen a fly blown dorper, and they do not need crutching.

If you are buying dorpers, try not to buy one that has been shorn, as this is a good way to hide the evidence of shedding ability.

Traditional dorper breeders dock their tails, often ridiculously short. We believe excessive docking is a bad practice as it may cause other structural problems, and the ewes are embarrassed at being so exposed (to say nothing about sunburn danger to sensitive bits). It seems unnecessary to dock dorper tails, but as some concession to tradition, we take about half the tail off with rubber rings when lambs are tagged. This has another advantage – we only dock pure dorpers, and do not dock damara or meatmasters. This serves to quickly identify pure dorpers from those meatmasters who look like dorpers.

4. Characteristics of Dorpers

Dorpers are meat sheep. Their body shape (a barrel of meat on short legs) makes them very attractive in the traditional fat lamb market. They are opportunistic foragers, and seem to maintain body condition even in tough times. Their temperament is generally placid, stubborn and individualistic. They make lovable pets, although rams have a tendency to give a butt at times. They can be separated from the flock without becoming unduly concerned. They are fertile breeders, not seasonal, and twins and triplets occur in good times. They are a bit indifferent as mothers – babies can bleat piteously for ages and mother will ignore them. They are tough on fences, probably no worse than most sheep, but far worse than damara. Their fat body and short legs mean they are not marathon walkers – it would be optimistic to expect a fat dorper ewe to travel 2 km to water every day in north Queensland heat. Similarly, a big dorper ram would not evade a dingo easily.

They cross well with any other breed of sheep and almost always improve carcass shape.

Dorper leather is said to be good, but we have no experience there.

5. Dorpers, Damaras and Meatmasters

Damara and Dorper are, in our opinion, the pre-eminent meat sheep for Northern Australia. They are both hardy, easy care sheep. The biggest advantage of dorpers is their appearance – they look like great meat sheep – wide rumps and always fat. Their disadvantage is that they are an artificial breed, created by men, and modified in show rings, often being selected for features of appearance or behaviour that do not improve the key commercial drivers – fertility, survival instincts, mothering ability, intelligence, flocking instinct, reaction to predators, roaming and foraging ability.

On the other hand, Damaras are largely a natural breed, selected by survival of the fittest, in harsh conditions. Thus they are fertile, multi-coloured, long legged, quick footed, observant, intelligent and protective of their young. Their disadvantages are their appearance (“look like long legged goats”) and they are easy to spook.

But, there is a way to get the best of both worlds – a cross of damara and dorper, widely referred to as a “Meatmaster”. We classify Meatmasters on the 25:25:25 rule – a Meatmaster should have:

  • At least 25% damara
  • At least 25% dorper
  • No more than 25% other sheep breeds

Do you use a damara ram over dorper ewes or vice versa? Our limited experience indicates that using a dorper ram over F3 damara ewes produces a good meatmaster, with one disadvantage - sometimes the short legged dorper ram has trouble reaching some of the tall F3 ewes. Also, in outback areas, I would prefer to have a lot of damara or damara cross ewes and just one dorper ram, rather than a lot of dorper ewes panting home. (Meatmasters are probably just getting back to the hardy sheep dorpers were 50 years ago.)

6. Our Dorper Selection Criteria

The No 1 profitability factor for any commercial animal breeding enterprise is fertility – how many healthy lambs can this ewe produce and raise without assistance from me? Any ewe that does not lamb, or needs assistance without good reason, should be culled.

Our next criteria is shedding ability – this sheep should have minimal wool which is shed annually, so there is no problem with burrs, spear grass etc.

And thirdly, thinking of our outback clients with big rough paddocks to traverse, longer legs and good feet are preferred.

7. Worms and Poison Plants

A few of us have been lucky to get some rain, after years of drought. The rain was wonderful – the magic painter slapped a brilliant green all over the dry dusty hills. But, rain also brings pests and weeds.

Worms are the sneaky one. All through the drought, worm eggs have been secretly accumulating on the pastures, waiting for rain to trigger hatching. Numbers of eggs built up and up. Then came the rain and an invisible explosion of worms. Hungry sheep eating the fresh green shoot on wet or dewy mornings will get a big dose of worm larvae. So, if your sheep look poorly, get a worm test done.

Rain also brings flush of new plants. An amazing number of plants protect their new shoots with various animal deterrents and poisons – even some pasture grasses and crops are poisonous at some stages of growth – usually fresh green shoots. They include lantana, sorghum, sugar gum, various burrs, acacia, cape weed, couch grass, cassia, rye grass and many more.

Generally, animals eat strange things when they are lacking in something - they seek the deficient mineral in bark or “weeds”, and sometimes the craved mineral is accompanied by a poison. The solution – make sure your sheep get access to a good range of minerals and trace elements. At other times, animals introduced to new areas take a while to learn what to eat – some die during lessons.

8. Copper Capers

We have long recognised the importance of minerals in the diet, and know that mineral deficiencies make plants and animals (and humans who eat those deficient plants and animals) prone to sickness, parasites and diseases. We know that copper is important in controlling worms in sheep, and are trying to move away from chemical drenches and drugs. And Rouseabout remembers when he was a young Rouseabout, sheep were drenched with a beer bottle using “Nicotine and Bluestone”. So we decided to try a copper sulphate drench.

First problem, how much drench was effective and safe. Modern vet texts do not help, being devoted to all the modern miracle (for a day) drugs. So, off to ABE books to buy some old vet books. Got a heap from the first half of last century with a lot of interesting and useful stuff. Eventually got a dose rate for giving sheep bluestone solution.

First candidates were ten very poor neglected old ewes we bought at auction. After half a day of calculating and measuring, they were lined up and drenched. A few days later we did a worm test – first ever count of “Zero Worms”.

This was the green light, so the ram mob was promptly lined up and drenched with bluestone. Bad move. Next morning 6 rams were dead.

Back to the research to find what went wrong – we learned a few things:

  • The margin between the lethal dose and the effective dose is small. The old books did not relate dose to sheep size, so some smaller rams got overdosed.
  • Dark coloured sheep can tolerate (and need) up to three times as much copper as white animals. True again – we killed 4 light coloured Meatmaster rams, one dorper ram and one small young F2 damara cross. Not one dark coloured damara ram was affected.
  • Of the six rams killed, 5 had dorper blood in them, and no pure damara was affected

Food, medicine or poison?– it depends on the dose, and the patient.

9. Dingo Disasters

In our last newsletter, we lectured people on the dangers of dogs and dingoes – “it is not a matter of whether, but when”, we lectured sternly.

For five years we have left our ram mob out on the hills, unguarded – no dog, no yard, no llama, no shepherd. At night, they went way up on the side of the hill and camped in a tight bunch. Then we moved them to a smaller paddock on the flats, with no nightcamp hills. Three nights later dingoes struck – 2 dorper rams killed instantly, one damara ram injured and died later.

There were only a few dorpers in a big mob, but the dingoes got them (these were new breeding rams for us which had cost $1,100 each). Why were the dorpers hit? Two reasons – the white colour showed up well at night, and they were too slow on their feet, and too trusting.

10. Horns or Poll?

We are totally in favour of poll cattle (our new Senepol bulls produced 100% poll calves from a cow herd with 40% of horns).

We are less certain of the benefits of poll sheep. A sheep breeding friend in Canada told us an interesting story. When he had poll sheep he lost lambs to eagles. When he changed to horned sheep, eagle attacks stopped. I suspect dingoes would also be more wary of damara horns. We would prefer poll ewes and horned rams!

11. Home Remedies

“If you have a bad cough, take a large dose of laxatives, then you will be afraid to cough”.

12. The True Meaning of Service

At one time in my life, I thought I had a handle on the meaning of the word "service." "It's the act of doing things for other people." Then I heard these terms which reference the word “Service”:

  • Internal Revenue Service
  • Postal Service
  • Civil Service
  • Public Service
  • The Free Health Service
  • Phone Customer Service

I became confused about the word "service." This is not what I thought "service" meant.

But today, I overheard two farmers talking. One of them said he had hired a bull to "service" a few of his cows. BAM! It all came into perspective. Now I understand what all those "service" agencies are doing to us.

I hope you now are as enlightened as I am.

13. True Service People

There are some people who give truly good service, and we mean to acknowledge some of them here.

For all sorts of farm and animal supplies by mail order, we get great service from Jay and Sandra Canning at The Farmers Mailbox. Look them up at www.fmb.com.au or phone on Freecall 1800 81 66 99.

We buy our guard llamas from Bob & Sylva Barns. Contact Sylva at srbarns@hotmail.com or ring either of them on 0754 727 061.

14. Who’s Been Handling My Baby?

It is a rule at Sherana that all lambs are tagged within about 3 days of birth. However, we have discovered that we must be very careful not to handle baby lambs too much or their mothers no longer recognise them, and in some cases, completely reject them.

This was a recent experience.

One mother had twins, but the second one got a bit lost and the mother was not sure about accepting it. So we decided to put some “Mothering Oil” on both lambs and the mother. (This is marvellous stuff – you put drops of sweet smelling oil on both mother’s nose and baby’s body, and then when mother sniffs the baby she gets her own smell and says: “Yup, it’s mine”.)

In the process of applying the oil, Mother-of-All-Things got some oil on one sleeve of her coat.

Next day, we were tagging other new lambs. She picked up the first lamb, Rouseabout applied the tag and MOAT released it back to its mother. However, it must have got some smell of mothering oil on its head.

As soon as it was released it ran back to its mother, who smelt its head, and immediately knocked it down “That’s not my baby”. Baby got up looking confused – mother took another sniff, this time of the lamb’s tail “Yup, it is mine all right”. Baby, much relieved, turned around to say hello to mum, who then smelt its head, and immediately knocked it down again. After this happened a third time, we realised what the problem was. We caught both mother and baby, applied Mothering oil to them both and released them. Baby once again ran up to Mum (lambs seem to use sight more than smell), Mum takes one sniff and says “Yup, that’s mine”. A much relieved baby was then permitted to have a suck.

15. Ferrari Sheep Transport

We have discovered a reliable economical carrier to take our sheep to anyone on the Bruce Highway from Brisbane to Cairns. He brings cattle from North Queensland and takes anything available as back loading. To date we have sent 7 separate parcels of damaras, dorpers and meatmasters to places from St Lawrence, Mackay, Malanda and Atherton. The cost is negotiable but seems to be about $30 per head. You must meet the truck on or very near the Bruce Highway, and have facilities to unload sheep quickly and safely. There have been two escapees from the unload, so if you cruise the Bruce Highway, you may catch a lost sheep. Do NOT come with a rusty farm trailer with a cage of chook netting and baling string, a gate that swings out and a plan to “carry them across”.

If you would like to be informed on when the next truck is going (about every 5 weeks), contact us early. We still deliver animals to some places or people we would like to visit. Below shows the latest consignment on the road:


16. The Sales Pitch

We have had a good year selling rams – all of last year’s crop are gone except for our top class breeders. But there is a new crop in the sale mob, so if you want Damaras, Dorpers, Meatmasters or Eunuchs, call now. (Our new crop of damaras is from Navaho, the quietest damara ram we have ever seen.)

(PS we also have Senepol and Senepol cross bulls for sale now. If you get our cattle newsletter, you will hear all about them. We may even consider sending a crate of turkeys, if bribed enough.)

17. Damaras for Dog Training

We have sold quite a few damara cross wethers to people training sheep dogs – “they have more life than merinos, who soon get tired and lie down”.

18. What is a Fair Price?

To a seller, a fair price is the highest price he can get and still sell all he wants to sell. To a buyer, a fair price is the lowest price he can pay and still get all he wants to buy. The settlement price is fair, on the day. There is no magic “fair price” which never changes and applies to all traders. So, if you think our price is too high, or above others, feel free to test the waters and haggle. There are times when we are desperate to move sheep, and times when we are relaxed. Our quoted prices do not change much, but the negotiated prices vary with the weather! Don’t be afraid to test for the real “fair price”.

19. Mailing Lists

Every time we send out a Sherana Report on Sheep or Cattle, we have two problems – too many envelopes to stuff, and too many letters and emails returned because they are “Unknown at this address”, “left address” or their email is "Full" or "Over Quota". So Please:

  • Advise promptly of change of address
  • Empty your email box
  • Advise if you wish to be taken off our mail list
  • Please give us an email address if you have one – profit margins and Rouseabout time do not support too many postage stamps and envelopes

Otherwise, like Millie the bow legged dorper, and Zeenie, the fat and un-pregnant F4 ewe (Dorper ram could not reach, so she got fat), YOU WILL GET CULLED.

Bye for now.

(PS we prefer to send this newsletter by email (printing and postage costs too much) so if you have an email address we would appreciate that advice. Pls let us know if you wish to also get our Cattle Report, or no more newsletters whatsoever.

Best Wishes for Christmas (if this gets sent by then) or for 2006, if it doesn’t

From Mother-of-All-Things, Rouseabout, Fixit, Sheba the White Wolf, the Hunting Dog, Navaho, Chad, the new llama, Waldo & Poncho, Testosterone Tex, father of all turkeys, Big Max, the Senepol and all the other Ovines, Bovines and Raptors.

Viv & Judy Forbes

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