In 1930 South Africa took on the challenge to produce a meat sheep breed that would produce a higher quality carcass and yet, thrive under the arid and semi-arid conditions. The project was finalized in 1946 and the Dorper Breed earned its place in the South African agriculture.
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 with the unmarked being called White Dorpers. However, they are considered separate breeds and are bred accordingly.
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. Dorper Sheep are the meat Sheep for the Modern Producer.
- They are highly adaptable and do well in harsh, extensive conditions as well as in more intensive operations. Ewes are excellent mothers and heavy milkers. Lambs are vigorous and have high survivability.
- Dorpers are non-seasonal or have an extended breeding season. They can easily be managed to produce three lamb crops in two years. They are very fertile and prolific. Lambing rates of 180% can be achieved per lambing. They are early maturing and will produce a lamb crop at one year of age.
Dorper sheep cross well with commercial ewes of other breeds and as terminal sires produce fast growing, muscular lambs.
- They are excellent converters of a wide range of forage types and they excel in grazing or weed control operations. And therefore mix well with cattle, leaving the good grass for them and clearing out the weeds.
- Because of their Blackhead Persian origin, Dorpers have natural tolerance to high temperatures and heavy insect populations, as well as extreme cold temperatures. They are productive in areas where other breeds barely survive. Because they are a hair sheep, they shed naturally and do not need to be sheared.