Dorper Qualities

Dorpers are the real deal! They have the potential to be much more profitable than cattle or any other sheep breed on far less inputs. Below are some reasons why:

  • Fast Growing Our lambs regularly hit 80 lbs at 3-4 months old on pasture! We regularly process less at 6 months old weighing 100-120 lbs on grass.
  • Hardy and Adaptable – Dorper Sheep are highly adaptable and do well in harsh, extensive conditions as well as in more intensive operations. Ours thrive in temps from -30 degrees Fahrenheit, all the way up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Low Maintenance – Dorpers are easy-care. We select for genetics within our flock that don't require hoof trimming. These sheep are known for being very disease-free and vigorous. They also require much less water than our cattle due to their ability to consume fresh snow in the pasture and morning dew.
  • Excellent Maternal Qualities – Ewes are excellent mothers and heavy milkers. Lambs are vigorous and have high survivability. Our ewes lamb on pasture nearly year round. Our lambs hit the ground and start nursing within minutes. These sheep just thrive!
  • Long Breeding Season – Dorpers are non-seasonal or have an extended breeding season. They can easily be managed to produce three lamb crops in two years.
  • Reproductive Efficiency – Dorpers are very fertile and prolific. Lambing rates of 180% can be achieved per lambing.
  • Pre-potency – Dorper sheep cross well with commercial ewes of other breeds and as terminal sires produce fast growing, muscular lambs.
  • Non-Selective Grazers – Dorpers are excellent converters of a wide range of forage types and they excel in grazing or weed control operations.
  • Heat and Insect Tolerant – Because of their Blackhead Persian origin, Dorpers have natural tolerance to high temperatures and heavy insect/parasite populations. They are productive in areas where other breeds barely survive.
  • High Carcass Quality  – Dorper carcasses are regularly winning competitions for quality. They have a fantastic meat to bone ratio. In blind taste test competitions, they excel due to the mild flavor of the meat and rich texture. Dorper is the epitome of Gourmet Lamb!

Dorper FAQ's

From the ADSBS Website:

Q. Where does the name Dorper come from?
A.  The name "DORPER" came from a compilation of the first syllables of the names of the parent breeds. DORSET HORN RAM + PERSIAN EWE = DORPER.

Q.  What is the difference between Dorpers and White Dorpers?
A.  A Dorper has a white body with a black head and was developed from crossing Dorset Horn Rams with Persian Ewes. After the Dorper breed was established in 1942 in South Africa, various breeders continued to focus on breeding white sheep and crossed Dorset Horn x Blackhead Persian and Dorset Horn x Van Rooy to develop a separate breed known as “Dorsian”. In 1964 the two breeds merged into one society to include Dorper and White Dorper sheep.

Q. What is the difference between Purebred and Fullblood?
A. The term "fullblood" means the sheep can trace its genetic background only to sheep originally imported from South Africa. "Purebred" means the sheep has been upgraded from American stock and is at least 93% or 15/16ths Dorper genetics. Upgrading was allowed in order to increase the numbers of Dorper sheep after South Africa experienced an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease and importation was no longer possible. The sheep are shown together in the show ring with no preference for either designation.

Q.  Are all Dorpers polled?
A.  Most Dorpers are without horns but many rams have scurs, and some will have horns, but this should not disqualify a Dorper ram from being stud quality. Experience has shown that horned rams tend to be more masculine and have a stronger libido.

Q. What is the mature weight of a Dorper or White Dorper?
A.  Mature rams typically average between 230-270 pounds. Mature ewes range between 180-210 lbs.

Q. What is the productive life of a Dorper?
A. Under good management, a Dorper ewe should produce lambs for 7 years or more. We know of ewes lambing well into their 12th and 13th year.

Q. Do they have a lot of twins and triplets?
A. This depends on available nutrition and genetics. Under good range conditions, a 150 percent lamb crop is typical and rates more like 180 percent with improved nutrition can be achieved. We strive for a minimum 200 percent lambing rate within our own flock.

Q. Can you breed Dorper ewes any time of year?
A. Yes. Again, available nutrition has a major role in conception rates. Lambing intervals of 8 months, three lamb crops every two years, is a common practice.

Q. At what age can you start breeding ewe lambs?
A. Depending on the time of year, ewe lambs between 6-8 months may cycle, but better conception rates will be achieved at 9-12 months and the later bred ewes can grow out better.

Q. How many ewes can a Dorper ram cover?
A. Ram lambs can frequently cover 20-25 ewes in a 51-day exposure. Yearling rams can usually cover 50+ ewes.

Q. Do Dorpers have to be sheared?
A. No. A Dorper should shed its covering each summer. Shedding ability is a trait that should be selected for in your breeding stock. Because Dorpers are a meat breed, they are shown fully shorn to emphasize their meat traits and excellent skin.

Q. Are Dorpers parasite resistant?
A. Studies have shown that Dorpers tend to tolerate a parasite burden better than other breeds. Many other factors influence parasite problems but with proper management techniques, deworming can be minimized even in higher rainfall areas. We are actively selecting for genetics within our flock that don't require deworming.

Q. How is the taste of Dorper meat?
A. Superb! Dorper lamb does not have the “mutton taste” that causes so many Americans to avoid eating lamb. It is succulent and fine textured. The purpose of the Dorper breed is to produce prime lamb.

Q. What about crossing a Dorper ram with wool-type ewes?
A. Early university trials have shown that the Dorper influence will improve the meat qualities and growth rate of lambs from popular commercial ewe breeds. However, the F1 lambs will have a diminished wool conformation.

Breed History

The Dorper breed was developed out of necessity. During the early 1930’s, South African farmers exported a surplus of mutton and lamb, from the fat tailed indigenous breeds, to London’s prestigious Smithfield Market. The carcasses were rejected because the European consumers were accustomed to the high quality New Zealand Canterbury lamb.

The South African Meat Board took on the challenge of producing a meat sheep breed that would produce a higher quality carcass and yet, thrive under arid to semi-arid conditions.

A breeding project was finalized in 1946 and the Dorper earned a prominent place in the history of South African agriculture. In 1950, the South African Dorper Breeders’ Association was formed.

The Blackhead Persian sheep, a hardy, fat-tailed desert breed from Arabia, brings to the Dorper its hardiness, thriftiness, adaptability, pigmentation and hair covering. It also brings remarkable fertility, with the ability to breed every eight months and to produce a high number of twins. In addition, the Persians have very valuable skins used in the production of fine leather products. The Dorset Horn rams crossed with Blackhead Persian ewes produced fast growing and heavily muscled lambs yielding very satisfactory economic returns under a variety of environmental conditions. The Dorper ewes from this cross were excellent mothers that could be bred in any season.

In the early 1950’s, a controversy arose concerning black markings vs. a pure white sheep. Some breeders preferred a white sheep, called the Dorsian, while others chose to select for confirmation rather than color and use the black markings as their trademark. In 1964, the controversy was settled when the blackhead and white Dorper breeders united into one association calling the black head sheep Dorpers and the unmarked sheep White Dorpers.

The modern day Dorper is numerically the second largest breed in South Africa with over 10 million head (over 1/3 of the total number of sheep). In recent years, the Dorper has become popular in the Middle East, China, Canada, Australia, South America, Mexico and the United States, where it is among the fastest growing breeds.