The Dorper was originally bred to fill a void in the South African lamb market to provide an animal with hardiness and fertility, whilst being run in marginal agricultural areas. It was also important that the animal possess good carcase qualities for export.
Research led to the Dorper, a cross between a Dorset Horn Ram and a Persian ewe — a sheep with the hardiness, adaptability, fertility and fecundity of the Persian, with the muscle and meatiness as well as the non-seasonal breeding of the Dorset Horn. The Dorper retains the Persian characteristics of a black head and neck, the white body, (a mixture of hair and wool which is shed in the summer), and a bare breech and belly (requiring no mulesing, crutching or shearing). In addition to the black hooves of the Persian, the dorper is said to be hardier and less susceptible to foot problems than the Dorset.
We believe the black head has some advantage by providing a more visible fibre, and in the flock should a ram be in the wrong place - with one’s prize Merino flock, a black head is immediately discernible as are his progeny and action can be taken without further change.
The Dorper, with its black head, also has an advantage where such weeds as St John’s Wart are present as it can cause a photosensitive reaction in white headed sheep. However the real truth is , that we just like the look of the Dorper better!
The Dorper as a meat animal is yielding more than 5% over conventional meat breeds, and this extra yield comes in the more expensive cuts. We find it more profitable to sell the lambs over the hook, but buyers educated to the distinctive black head and neck should ensure a premium for lambs through the saleyard.
The Dorper skin is said to be the weak link in the system This however is not a problem long-term, as Dorper leather is highly sought after for manufacturing such items as gloves and car seats. A premium is being paid in South Africa for the leather coming from full-blood Dorpers, (rather than crossbred) and once again, the black head and neck of the Dorper are a good indicator of the origin of the skin.
We have found our Dorpers to be highly fertile, fecund and docile. They are conspicuous by holding their condition in hard times compared with our non-Dorpers.