Dorper Sheep


Origin Of The Breed

The Dorper sheep was developed in the 1930's by the Department of Agriculture of South Africa when they did a crossing with a Dorset Horn Ram and Blackhead Persian ewes.

After the First World War, increased interest developed in South Africa in crossing indigenous sheep, like the Persian and Merino with British mutton breed rams. The precise reasons for this phenomenon is not clear. As a result of circumstances such as the depression, surplus mutton and the slump in wool prices in the early 30’s, the exporting of mutton and lamb received more attention. To the English market the fat-tail type sheep were both strange and new and according to their system of grading not desirable. A need originates for a fairly good mutton sheep which could produce fast growing lambs on veld conditions with a good quality carcass. In the Western Cape, a prerequisite was that the ewes must be rutting in November-December in order to lamb from April. In the Karoo areas, the aim was to replace the fat-tail types with a breed with a more acceptable carcass. The initial need was to produce a sheep breed suitable to the demanding low rainfall areas of the Northern Province. A relatively easy care sheep with an acceptable meat carcass had to be found for these difficult circumstances.

The most important characteristics required for the breed were probably the following:

Satisfactory lambing ability in the Autumn

Reasonably acceptable meat carcass

A good slaughter lamb on veld conditions at 4-5 months

Resistance against cold wind and rain, extremely high summer temperatures and radiation

A versatile sheep and good utilizer of tough grass and shrub veld

Satisfactory reproductive fitness

Easy care without lamb shearing problems

Fair amount of colour and pigmentation

With this goal in mind, co-operative experiments were done by farmers on a small scale in the Karoo. Due to the outstanding performance of the Blackhead Persian, especially under harsh environmental conditions. This breed was selected as the mother breed. The Dorset Horn was selected for it demonstrated a longer breeding season in comparison to other British sheep breeds.


The officials at Grootfontein (main research center for the Karoo areas) wanted to determine the merit of the different cross-breeding and the following was suggested: The testing of pure bred rams of different British mutton breeds on indigenous fat-tail breeds.

To determine the proportion British mutton breed to introduce without losing the hardiness of the indigenous breeds.

To use half-cross Dorset Horn x Persian rams (50:50) on the indigenous fat-tail breeds in order to upgrade them to the half-cross Dorset Horn x Blackhead Persian. This phase only started in 1941 as high prices, mortality and mating ability of purebred British mutton breeds lead to their failure.

To establish an improved South African mutton breed. There were already experiments taking place at Grootfontein with the Dorset x Persian proving more and more to comply with the need for ewes to lamb in Autumn or to conceive in November-December.

Later ¼ and 3/8 cross were added and the Round-ribbed Afrikaner was also involved. Eventually in 1942, after some co-operators joined the so-called half-cross rani scheme and switched to the mating of F1-half-cross x F1-half-cross Dorset-Persian to produce F2-half-cross individuals. The following co-operators, namely R.Y. Edmeades, W.B. Ludick, W.A. Stahl, D.J de Smidt (and his son H.C. de Smidt) worked successfully with Dorset Horn crosses on their farms and contributed a lot to the establishment of the Dorper breed as such.

As the Dorper was developed on their farms under the guidance of D.J Engela, these people devoted a lifetime’s work to the project and not always under easy circumstances. Through trial and tribulations Engela decided in 1942 that Edmeades should strive to a half-cross Dorset x Persian. At that stage Edmeades did not have mature half-cross rams available but he had quite a few ¾ bred on which he was previously concentrating.

Engela selected two half-cross (Dorset x Persian) rams from the flock of Stahl to be used by Edmeades. They were received in September 1942 but not put to work immediately although from then on he was concentrating on a half-cross Dorset x Persian. He mated his ¾ cross DP rams the following mating season with Persian and 3/8 cross DP ewes. The ¾ cross and 7/8 cross DP ewes and also some Persian ewes were mated to a Dorset Horn ram.

Engela then reported that Edmeades was in the process of transforming his whole Blackhead Persian flock into a half-cross Dorset x Persian flock – in other words the future Dorper. With these matings the first purposeful “Dorper” lambs were produced although at that stage they were only referred to as Dorset x Persian or half-cross Dorset x Persian. Edmeades and Engela continued with the mating, weighing and comparing of the different crops of lambs with interesting and rewarding results.

In 1947 Edmeades at last decided to attach the name “DORPER” to his new stud. On 21st May 1946, 1000 half-cross Dorset x Persian ewes were inspected on his farm and 82 x F2 and F3 ewes were selected as well as 2 x F2 rams and 1 x F3 ram as foundation stock for the Rye Dorper Stud. Another 200 ewes and six rams were selected as “selected flock”. Unfortunately, no records were kept of the stud ewes and lambs but Edmeades was so pleased with the results that he decided to sell all his pure bred Dorset Horn rams. From here on, again under the guidance of Engela and in co-operation with Edmeades a proper record system was developed, a pointing system and breed standards came from more research by keen farmers and officials like S.W Bosman who followed Engela.

White Dorper

The person who played the most important role in the development of the White Dorper was G. Colerous who farmed near Grootfontein Agricultural College. He did not act as a co-operator but kept close contact with Grootfontein officials. His Merinos had a low lambing percentage under his veld circumstances and he became interested in mutton sheep. He bought Persians and also two Dorset Horn rams of outstanding quality which were imported from Australia during 1937.

The first crosses between Persian and Dorset Horn were mostly spotted but there were also white lambs. He mated 12 (white) half-cross Dorset x Persian rams with his Merino ewes and produced quarter-cross Dorset lambs (1/4 DH : ¼ BP : ½ Merino). Thus, he became a Dorset x Persian (Dorper) breeder but he concentrated on the white variation. In later experiments, Dorset Horn x Van Rooy cross-breeding was also done and the Dorper was also built up partially by this cross-breeding.

In the early stages, there was quite an argument about the name. Rous wanted to call his breed the Dorsian, while Engela favoured the name Dorper. Eventually, in 1964 the two Societies amalgamated and by explanation of F.N. Bonsma that these sheep actually carried exactly the same genes, the name Dorper was accepted and acknowledged as such by Stud Book. Exactly the same breed standards are applied to both Blackhead Dorper and White Dorper except regarding colour and pigmentation.

Breed Improvement

Research on the Dorper continued and on 19 July 1950, The Dorper Breeders Society was formed by 28 farmers and 11 officials. A score card was developed with the following traits in order of importance:



Fat distribution

Colour pattern

Hair/wool type

General appearance or type

The early Dorpers were white with black spots/patches all over the body. During 1957, this aspect received a lot of attention and discussion. The outflow of this was the even colour distribution of today's Dorpers.

The number of breeders increased steadily over the years to a peak of 910 members during 1984/1985. Currently, there are 600 breeders represented by 10 clubs in the various parts of South Africa and Namibia. According to Marais and Schoeman (1990), the Dorpers grew from 2.6 million in 1963/64 to 6.6 million in 1990. The estimated number of Dorpers in South Africa is currently over 7 million.

The first National Dorper show was held at Hopetown during 1955. Since then it grew to one of the biggest small stock shows in the world. From 1988 until 1998 more than 1000 animals competed for the different prizes. Regional and club shows are held on an annual basis all over South Africa. Since 2002 a World Championship Show takes place every second year in South Africa.


From this humble beginning, the breed proved itself as a hardy mutton sheep with a top quality carcass at a relative early age. This progress can only be contributed to the many people who truly loved and believed in the success of the breed. The breed is now in the hands of the current generation and they can further develop the breed by applying what they have learned from the past, but also the overcome the challenges of the future.


Article compiled mainly from the book written by JA Nel (History of the Dorper) 1993. Dorper Breeders Society of South Africa.

Outstanding Characteristics Of The Dorper

These important characteristics are essential for proper selection. We don’t have to wonder how to achieve these as they are bred into the breed over the past 60 years. It is therefore our obligation to future generations, not to breed these characteristics out or select them out.

So when you do your selection keep the following in mind:

(1) Meat qualities
(2) High production rate (Fertility)
(3) Reproduction (Twins)
(4) Weight gain
(5) Carcass quality

It is claimed that the Dorper can lamb three times in two years. To achieve this, remember the following:

(1) The ewe background is important. Fertility of an ewe is influenced by the conditions in the first 12 weeks of her life cycle. (Prof. van Niekerk – University of Pretoria).
(2) Feeding and condition of ewes.
(3) Management, size of camps, percentage rams to ewes.
(4) Fertility, condition and libido of rams.
(5) The mating season should be controlled. Do not mate ewes during the lowest conception time. The Dorper has a long breeding season but also has a short, low-conception period, which varies from area to area.


This is measured by the well being of the animal and the ability to produce and reproduce under any condition, and is determined by the following:

(1) Mortality rate
(2) Reproduction tempo
(3) Growth rate

The ewe should keep reasonable condition while raising her lamb to be ready for the next mating cycle. However, be fair to your animals, especially ewes raising multiple lambs, under drought and poor grazing conditions - let nature help you to select for this important aspect.


The Dorper was originally bred to produce under arid conditions. Now also farmed in ultra cold, snow and wet conditions. Under these conditions the animal must be able to survive and resist health hazards and diseases. You can select for hardiness through observation and record keeping.

Veld Utilization

The Dorper is outstanding in this aspect and being non-selective in its grazing habits, means that it will fully utilize virtually any type of grazing or roughage. This trait also makes the breed excellent when participating in any controlled grazing improvement program. It is an absolute fallacy that the Dorper “tramples” the pastures (veld). It is strictly the farmers’ responsibility to control his stocking rate.

According to the research done by Prof. Tertius Brand of the Elsenburg Agric Research Centre, who received all research on diet selection etc. of Dorpers, there is a lack of information on the breed under more intensive conditions, but it seems clear that Dorpers are less selective feeders than other breeds. They are bigger than most wool sheep, but they consume less herbage per metabolic size and can actually be used to improve veld conditions. Obviously, the farmers’ stocking rate must be correct.

1) Dorpers utilize shrubs and bushes to a greater extent, but take in less grass than Merino-types.

2) They walk less to select food or find a suitable spot to graze. The result is a shorter grazing time, fewer separate grazing periods, less trampling.

Animals can be compared by means of the so called relative trampling index, which uses body weight, sleeping length, spoor size and distance walked to determine the potential ability to disturb the soil surface. In various tests done around the country it was proven that Dorpers take in lower quality materials, thus improving veld conditions. However, more research is needed under extensive conditions as well as on other behaviour aspects of this unique breed.

Good Mothering Qualities

The Dorper ewe will nourish her lambs under difficult conditions. When the ewes are left alone they will lamb easily, and will retain and look after their lambs. Give them enough space with good grazing, clean water, etc. Furthermore, they will give you a good return on your investment. The Dorper does not easily lose their lambs, even if they are handled soon after lambing. The mortality rate in the Dorper is low.

Easy Care

Dorpers are easy care animals. With the correct covering on the animal, you are ensured of good demand for breeding material as no shearing is required. Dorpers and White Dorpers generate additional income from the sale of skins.

Dorper Skins

Dorper skins are regarded among the best in the world. It has no wrinkles and a smooth grain. It is used in the manufacture of high quality leather clothes and gloves.

These skins are a sought-after export product, and few Dorper skins are used locally in the leather industry. Pickled Dorper skins are mostly sold for export at good prices.

The grain of the skin takes up half of the total thickness of the skin. Glands are not well developed in the grain, as the grain consists of a network of strong collagen fibres. This network of collagen fibres makes the leather exceptionally strong. Collagen is the material that forms the leather.

A sheep skin with a lot of hair closely resembles a goatskin. The fibers of a Dorperskin are delicate, but the skin structure is tighter and denser than that of goatskins or wool skins. The weave angle of Dorper skin fibres is flat – a feature that strengthens the leather further.

General appearance of the Dorper: The appearance of the Dorper appeals to many people, and it is easy to care about something that pleases the eye.

Breed Standards

Standard Of Excellence

The purpose of a Standard of Excellence is to indicate the degree of excellence of the animal by means of a description and a score by points according to visual appearance and performance. These values must be recorded in such a way as to give a true reflection of the excellence or deficiencies of the sheep. For descriptive and comparative purposes sheep may be compared with each other according to a score card, and the following points are allotted, corresponding to the respective terms of the main sections of the standard of excellence.


The following comprises the Standard of Excellence:

Confirmation: Represented By The Symbol B


Strong and long, with large eyes, widely spaced and protectively placed. Strong nose, strong well-shaped mouth with well-fitted deep jaws. The forehead must not be dished. The size of the ears must be in relation to the head. A developed horn base or small horns are the ideal. Heavy horns are undesirable but permissible. The head must be covered with short, dullish black hair in the Dorper and dull, white hair in the White Dorper. The head must be dry i.e. without indications of fat localisation.

Fore-Quarter And Neck:

The neck should be of medium length, well-fleshed and broad and well-coupled to the forequarters. Shoulders should be firm, broad and strong. A moderate protrusion of the brisket beyond the shoulders, moderate width and good depth are the ideal. Forelegs must be strong, straight and well-placed with strong pasterns and hoofs not too widely split. Weak pasterns and X legs must be discriminated against according to degree. Shoulders which appear loose, a brisket which slants up too sharply with no projection beyond the shoulders, crooked legs and weak walking ability, are faulty.


The ideal is a long, deep wide body, ribs well sprung, loin broad and full. The sheep must have a long straight back and not a "devil's grip". A slight dip behind the shoulders is permissible.


A long and wide rump is the ideal. The inner and outer twist to be well fleshed and deep in adult animals. The hind legs must be strong and well-placed, with sturdy feet and strong pasterns. Faulty pasterns must be discriminated against according to degree. The hocks must be strong without a tendency to turn in or out. Sickle, bandy or perpendicular hocks are culling faults.

Udder And Sex Organs:

A well-developed udder and sex organs are essential in the ewe. The scrotum of the ram should not be too long and the testicles should be of equal size and not too small. A split scrotum is undesirable.

General Appearance:

The sheep should be symmetrical and well-proportioned. A calm temperament with a vigorous appearance is the ideal.

Size Or Growth Rate: Represented By The Symbol G.

A sheep with a good weight for its age is the ideal.
Discrimination against extremely small or extremely big animals must be exercised.


Distribution Of Fat: Represented By The Symbol D.**

Too much localisation of fat on any part of the body is undesirable. An even distribution of a thin layer of fat over the carcass and between the muscle-fibres is the ideal. The sheep must be firm and muscular when handled.

Colour Pattern: Represented By The Symbol P

Dorpers: A white sheep with black confined to the head and neck is the ideal. Black spots, to a limited extent on the body and legs are permissible, but an entirely white sheep or a sheep predominantly black is undesirable. Brown hair around the eyes, white teats, white under the tail and white hoofs are undesirable. White Dorpers: A white sheep, fully pigmented around the eyes, under the tail, on the udder and the teats is the ideal. A limited number of other coloured spots is permissible on the ears and underline.

Cover Or Fleece: Represented By The Symbol H.

The ideal is a short, loose, light covering of hair and wool with wool predominating on fore quarter and with a natural clean kemp underline. Too much wool or hair is undesirable. Exclusively wool or hair is a fault. Manes are a disqualifier.


Type: Represented By The Symbol T.

Type is judged according to the degree to which the sheep conforms to the general requirements of the breed. Emphasis is placed on conformation. Size and fat distribution when determining type, while colour and covering are of secondary importance. (For pointing details, refer to Dorper Sheep Breeders' Society of South Africa

Average weights of Dorper ram lambs and rams as well as ewe lambs and ewes in good condition note: some of the ewes might have been pregnant.



The Dorper Sheep Breeders' Society of South Africa was founded in 1950 and now has 600 members throughout South Africa and Namibia. Three National Sales are held annually and a National Championship Show is held every second year. Dorper courses are held throughout South Africa and a Judges' Panel is made up of people who have passed a Junior Course, two Senior Courses and a Judges' Examination. Inspectors who are also members of the Society, are appointed from this panel.


The Dorper has already been distributed worldwide and has proved itself a world winner. Worldwide, Dorper numbers are still increasing rapidly.

South Africa is proud to share the DORPER breed with the rest of the world.

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