Dorper Sheep “The Transition”
The United States sheep industry has been in a steep decline from its peak numbers in the World War II era. This trend has been ongoing for many years as the value of wool has decreased, government support has been cut, and shearers more and more difficult to find. In the mean time demand for meat is growing and as the world’s population becomes more affluent the demand for red meat will increase. Due to many factors the world price of grain has grown to the point that the traditional long term sheep feeding operations will be out of business. What is the answer to this scenario that on one hand the sheep business is struggling and on the other hand a great opportunity is emerging?
What if we could make a plan to breed a sheep that will fit the future? We could work on breeding a sheep that was highly efficient on grass and could be finished without too much expensive grain. This would certainly make us a leaner meat product and it would cost less if we use our own forage to grow our sheep. This efficient sheep could be grain fed for a short time if the economics would support it. We could look for non-seasonal breeding sheep so that we can have a year round supply of lamb. We would certainly want to put carcass characteristics at the top of our list so that we breed a sheep that would have more of the higher value cuts such as legs and loins. For the most part lamb cuts other than legs, chops, and racks have little value and are unfamiliar to American consumers. Therefore the type of sheep that would be most profitable is the sheep that produces large loins and legs at the earliest age. This is quite a contrast to the later maturing, large frame sheep we’ve developed here in the USA.
All over the world Dorper sheep are seeing growth and interest. Some question the validity of Dorper sheep and quickly dismiss their future. The truth is even in Australia where fine wool is king the Dorper breed is advancing. When the first Dorpers arrived in Australia the people who brought them in lost friends, business partnerships were dissolved, and frequent whispers were heard in groups of sheep farmers when a Dorper breeder walked by. Now they are beginning to sing a different tune. When the actual pen is put to paper the Dorper will make more money for the sheep rancher. How can they make this claim you ask? Simple, more lambs less labor. As prices of inputs increase such as feed, fuel, and fertilizer the attractiveness of an efficient meat sheep will become evident to everyone looking to make a profit.