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What are Dorper Sheep?

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  • Written By: Jacob Queen
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2016
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Dorper sheep are a livestock breed developed in the 1930s. They are originally from South Africa and are well-known for their hardiness. The animals have no horns, possess short coats and are generally raised strictly for mutton rather than wool. Dorper sheep come in two varieties, with the only substantial difference being either white or black colored heads. The two types are chosen generally as a matter of aesthetic preference and don’t have any other significance.

In 1930s South Africa, a surplus of wasted mutton existed primarily due to problems with carcass quality in the country's available sheep breeds. Farmers decided to develop a new type of sheep that was well-adapted for the local climate and specifically designed for mutton. The breed was created by combining the Persian Ewe with the Dorset Horn Ram. The farmers wanted an animal that was as tough as the hardy Persians, but with quality carcasses like the Dorsets. By 1942, they had achieved their goal.

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The area where dorper sheep come from is generally hot and arid, so a tolerance for that sort of environment was very important to breeders. There is a small amount of long wool on the sheep's back, but the sides and belly are covered with a short coat, which makes the animal more comfortable in hot, dry areas than many other sheep breeds. They're also very adaptable when it comes to food and will comfortably graze on bushes or leaves of certain trees, much like goats.

Dorper sheep are often described as easy to care for, and they’re known for being especially fertile. Most of the ewes become pregnant during a typical breeding season, and the lambs tend to grow up very fast, reaching up to 80 pounds (36 kg) within four months. They also have an extended breeding season, which means more lambs are born every year than would be typical with other sheep breeds. The animals have a very calm demeanor, and the mothers are known to do a good job raising their own lambs, which generally results in less work for the farmer.

The combination of rapid reproduction, fast growth, adaptability and hardiness make the dorper sheep an especially good mutton breed. They're known for producing very tender meat with a mild flavor, and their skin is quite thick, which makes it generally good for all kinds of sheepskin merchandise. All these qualities have helped make the dorper the second most popular sheep breed in South Africa.

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