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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
- 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
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
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
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or ring either of them on 0754 727
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
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
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
(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
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
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