The dorper sheep is a cross-breed between the blackhead Persian sheep (an African breed) and the dorset horn (a British breed) developed in South Africa between 1945 and 1950. It is a very successful and adaptable breed that has been exported to many countries including Australia. The dorper sheep was introduced into Kenya about 50 years ago. There are two types: the ‘dorper’ with a black head, neck and legs, and the ‘White dorper’ with a white head.
Dorper sheep perform well in semiarid areas. They have a high lambing percentage and can breed every 8 months. They lamb easily, are excellent mothers, and have a quiet disposition. They are quite disease resistant and not susceptible to fly strike. Lambs gain weight quickly, mature early and may be mated at around 9 months.
Good care is essential
These are very attractive properties. However, if you would like to keep dorper sheep, you should not stop there. There are some more important facts to consider.
Local breeds have the advantage that they are hardy and adapted to their environment and climate. Red Maasai sheep, for example, can cope much better with worm infestations or droughts than exotic breeds.
It therefore makes sense to give priority to the improvement of local breeds.
Upgrading with more exotic breeds is only successful in combination with improved animal husbandry. Otherwise, exotic breeds may do even worse than local breeds as they require better management (see mbox exotic breeds).
Sheep respond very well to good care and management. The most effective step to improve profitability of any sheep breed is to improve husbandry: Good feeding, housing, disease and parasite control and vaccinations.
Poorly fed animals are less resistant to diseases and parasites. Underfed ewes do not come on heat, their milk production is poor and their lambs are weak and develop slowly. Clean sheds, clean water, sufficient quality feeds and supplements and mineral licks are essential.
Meant production of sheep can then be improved further by a good breeding programme. Select heavy animals for breeding, as they produce faster growing offspring. For a lasting effect it is essential to prevent inbreeding (see box breeding records) and to include as many animals as possible. The best way to do this is by involving the whole community or region.
Last but not least: sheep are heavy grazers that feed close to the ground and will finish off a pasture entirely. In dry regions you should be careful with sheep: They may ruin the scarce and fragile vegetation completely.
Improving local breeds
Only the best ewes and rams in a herd and in the community should be chosen for reproduction. Castrate surplus rams. Selection criteria can be fast growth (in rams), good health, fertility and litter size (twins may be undesirable as they are usually weaker than single lambs), etc. Local sheep breeds may improve considerably within a short time if herds are well managed.
Upgrading of dorper sheep
Local ewes (e.g. Maasai ewes) are mated with rams of a more productive breed, e.g. the dorper sheep. The resulting crosses are then mated with non-related males and females with the same level of cross breeding (50% or 25% local blood. Positive traits of the the local breed can be maintained in this way.
Studies found that dorper-red Maasai crosses had much higher lamb survival rates than pure dorper sheep.
The highest productivity was found in animals with 75% red Maasai blood. This level is achieved by crossing pure red Maasai with pure dorper sheep, and crossing its offspring again with red Maasai sheep. These “backcrosses” have 75% red Maasai blood and 25% Dorper blood.