Dorper breeds were developed in the 1930s and ‘40s, and were officially recognized in South Africa in 1946. The fast-growing, well-muscled Dorpers are a cross between Horned Dorset rams and Blackhead Persian ewes. Dorper Sheep are typically docile and require minimal labor to manage.
Blackhead Persian ewes, originally from Arabia, lend their hardiness (adaptable to heat, cold, dry or wet conditions), high fertility and frequent twins to their Dorper offspring. Dorpers are hair sheep, and generally shed each spring and summer. Therefore, they require only minimal shearing. Dorpers are selected for high quality skins that may yield up to 20 percent of carcass market values. Dorper sheepskins make excellent leather, are highly sought after and are marketed as “cape glovers.”
There are two recognized Dorper varities. A black head and white body are characteristics of a classic Dorper sheep; white Dorpers are completely white. American sheep are shorn so judges can see sheep conformation. In South Africa, show animals may have up to two inches of wool. The animal’s coats may have a blend of short wool and hair. Breeders may select for natural shedding ability or show ring qualities. Some animals retain wool on their back or main body, which protects them from summer sun and insects. Animals may not shed in the same pattern each year. Annual shedding typically leaves small clumps of wool and/or hair across pastures and where animals rub against trees of fence posts.
Dorpers have strong maternal instincts and can begin breeding as early as 10 months. On their website, the Howells reported that two ewes gave them 10 lambs in 18 months. On pasture, lambs grow quickly and build muscle. Dorpers cross well with other breeds and thrive on a wide range of forage. They do not require grain feed but can adapt to trough feeding in drought conditions.
Most Dorpers do not have horns, but some rams have scurs or small horns. Those with horns may have a stronger libido according to the American Dorper Sheep Breeders’ Society (ADSBS).
Ulf Kintzel, owner of White Clover Sheep Farm, recommended processing Dorper lambs at 85 to 100 pounds. Higher weights or feeding grains may lead to excess fat, according to Kintzel. Dorper meat has a mild flavor prized by restaurant chefs and consumers. Kintzel said ewe culls taste milder than mutton of traditional breeds.
Dorper rams can weigh 225 to 275 pounds and ewes range between 160 and 220 pounds.
American purebreds have 15/16 South African genetics and full-bloods have 100 percent South African genetics. Dorper sheep may be classified and tagged under the South African Breed Standard of Excellence as:
• Type 5 (blue ear tag) — Very good, stud quality (rams and ewes)
• Type 4 (red ear tag) — Above average, stud quality
• Type 3 (white ear tag) — Commercial quality, first selection
• Type 2 — Commercial Quality, second selection
• Type 1 — Cull
Types are evaluated by conformation (head, forequarter, barrel, hindquarter, sexual organs), growth /size, fat distribution, color pattern and covering.
As Dorper sheep join more American herds, more Dorpers sheep shows will be held across the country. The Big E in Springfield, MA held a Dorper Sheep show in September. Entries came from farms across New England and the Midwest. Dorper shows are also being held at:
• North American International Livestock Exposition in Louisville, KY
• Texas Hill Country Dorper Association Show in Fredericksburg, Texas
• San Antonio Livestock Show in San Antonio, Texas
• Fort Worth Regional Show at Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo
• Southern States Dorper Show in Cookeville, TN
• Western Regional Dorper Show at the Utah State Fair
• Mid-America Show and Sale in Duncan, OK
• Woodstock Fair in Woodstock