By Barbara Barton
Published February 2002
AS A SHEEP RANCHER, would you like to own a breed that produces a heavier lamb in a shorter time, has more muscling, isn’t sheared, and breeds year around? If so, the Dorper breed could be for you.
Mike Sudderth, who ranches near Ozona, Texas, says Dorper sheep thrive in arid conditions. Many parts of South Africa, the homeland of Dorpers, get less than 7 inches of rain yearly, so the Dorper feels at home in Texas’ dry ranch land.
This breed of sheep is a non-selective grazer, so in West Texas these sheep skyline liveoak and cedars much like goats do as they reach to feed as high on the trees as possible. Mike has also noticed the Dorpers eating algerita bushes, but he never has noticed them eating prickly pear. (And he hopes he never does.)
Most specimens of purebred Dorpers are absent any wool on the belly and side, but often they exhibit a small amount of wool-hair mix along their top. This remaining hair reminds some ranchers of the “cape” left deliberately when Angora goats are sheared in the frigid days of February or March. This extra layer of hair keeps the sheep warm.
Philip Glass, who ranches near Water Valley, knows about goats freezing. He said, “I lost 80 percent of my Spanish goats to sleet in 1995.” He purchased his first Dorper sheep in 1997 and now runs 50 purebred Dorpers and about 200 commercial ewes that are Dorper crosses.
Glass has experimented with crossing Katahdin and Barbadoes with Dorpers since both are hair sheep. The Katahdin animal brings the traits of a larger frame and good mothering instincts to the offspring. These ewes are good milkers and less prone to having mastitis. Although Dorpers do not have wool, Glass says the pelt of a Dorper makes good leather.
Multiple births are another trait of Dorpers. Sudderth recently had 88 yearling Dorper ewes that produced 44 sets of twins.
Because purebred Dorpers are expensive, many people use a two-generation method of obtaining a pure Dorper, as does Mike Sudderth. He crosses a purebred Dorper ram with Rambouillet ewes. This first cross has a white or brownish wool-hair mix, but the 50-percent Dorper, or F1 generation, crossed with a purebred Dorper produces a white-haired Dorper that sheds its hair. The F1 generation of White Dorper ewes has the wool-hair mix without the brownish color.
A purebred Dorper ewe, which has a black face and neck, is more common than the White Dorper that has white hair all over its body. Whereas the United States has 1,271 fullblood Dorper ewes, and 1,080 fullblood rams, there are only 247 fullblood White Dorper ewes and 207 fullblood White Dorper rams in the nation. Although these animals are very expensive, Glass feels that in the next five years, interest in these “snow whites” will increase.
Philip Glass visited Africa to see these sheep in their natural habitat. Most Dorper breeders begin their flock by obtaining frozen embryos, which come from South Africa to Canada and then to the United States. However, the foot and mouth quarantine has stopped the influx of embryos. Sudderth says frozen semen from Australia is still imported into the United States.
In fact, sheepmen also can buy ewes from Canada that have been impregnated with frozen semen from Australia. These pregnant ewes are called recipient ewes.
There is a difference of opinion as to whether the quarantine is good or bad. Philip believes that the quarantine has helped stabilize the quantity of Dorpers in the United States, but Sudderth feels differently.
As the number of this new breed increases, the American Dorper Sheep Breeder’s Society has more sheep shows. The 2001 ADSBS show in Sedalia, Mo., attracted Dorper breeders from Mexico and Canada, as well as the United States. Sheepman had a great chance to show their purebred Dorpers.
Glass says the good taste of Dorper meat is one factor that sold him on the breed. For that reason some producers retail their own meat. However, Glass sells his sheep live by placing the commercial sheep in a local sheep sale and by selling potential breeding stock to interested ranchers. Mike Sudderth weaned his lambs at 2 1/2 to 3 months of age last year with an average weight of 80.2 pounds. Of course, he admits that last spring had good rains. After weaning his crop, Mike places wether lambs in a feedlot where they are fattened and sold. A gain of 0.73 lbs. per day and yield of 57 percent were recorded on Sudderth’s most recent pen of 75 percent Dorper lambs fattened. Although Mike’s lambs did well in the feedlot, most of his lambs are sold for breeding purposes.
Philip Glass says that the first Dorper show in Texas is tentatively set to take place at the San Angelo Livestock Show facilities in 2003. He feels this will be a good time for Texans to see the Dorper sheep.
Glass emphasizes, “The magic of the Dorper is early growth to weaning time.” A ram he raised weighs 140 pounds at the age of 100 days.
Since these lambs gain so quickly, Glass says they should be weaned in three months. “They also eat forage at an earlier age than other breeds,” he says. An added bonus to early weaning is that Dorper ewes can rebreed, have a 5-month gestation period, and produce another lamb crop within 8 months of the previous one.
One of the amazing facts about Dorpers is their ability to mature so quickly. Mike Sudderth has five fullblood White Dorper rams that started breeding ewes when they were 5 1/2 months old. Since the Dorpers mature so quickly, Sudderth breeds his ewe lambs at the age of seven or eight months. These young ewe lambs recently produced a 95 percent lamb crop.
Other interesting traits of the Dorpers have to do with their resistance against intestinal parasites. Mike and Philip both drench their Dorpers about once a year. Mike prefers to drench in the winter.
In rough country southeast of Ozona, Mike deals with bobcats and feral hogs. Both of these predators will attack the sheep so Sudderth tried different means of predator control. He first used guard donkeys with his sheep, but they bit the baby lambs and swung them around in the air by their tails. He switched to llamas as guard animals and for a year he has used them with success.
Mike thinks the Dorper is a very intelligent animal. He says they move through gates and into trailers with ease. As he becomes more involved with this new breed, he says it has decreased the number of cattle he owns and changed his carrying capacity on his nine sections near Ozona.
Sudderth says, “I now stock 10 percent cattle and 90 percent sheep.” His sheep tally includes 60 fullblood and 700 percentage Dorpers and White Dorpers. These sheep must be easy to handle because Mike and his foreman, Mario, are able to tend to all the ranch work with only occasional extra help.
Both Mike Sudderth and Philip Glass are board members of the American Dorper Sheep Breeders Society. Philip is currently vice president of the organization. He says they had their fall Dorper sale in October of 2001 in San Angelo.
Mike Sudderth and Philip Glass have more than the Dorper sheep in common; both come from ranch families who pioneered this way of life and encouraged their offspring to continue working with livestock for many years. In the late 1880s Mike’s great-grandfather, J.W. Friend, settled southeast of Ozona and initially ranched 125 sections. Philip Glass’ family has ranched in Sterling County since the 1880s and the family holdings spread to include land near Water Valley. Each of these men are aware of the fact that ranchers have to adjust to new and better ranching methods to survive.
These two men also represent the increasing number of ranchers who have other jobs in addition to their agricultural interests. Mike Sudderth is an “all but retiring” doctor who does some medical practice in Fredericksburg, but spends most of his time at his ranch near Ozona. Philip Glass manages the Concho Valley Pecan Company in San Angelo and Pecans.com online in addition to his ranching. Both of these men, including a growing number of sheepmen, have discovered traits that they like in these Dorper sheep.
This South African breed with their ability to develop quicker and adapt to West Texas terrain well, may encourage more people to take a good look at Dorper sheep.
Philip and Jennifer Glass, Water Valley, Texas, 325-465-4267; Mike and Jean Sudderth, Fredericksburg, Texas, 830-990-8486 or 325-392-3082.