The Dorper is the result of one of the most successful long-term livestock improvement programmes in South Africa. During the 1930s it became clear that a new breed was needed that could produce a carcass of high quality in the dry areas of South Africa. Persian and Dorset Horn sheep were crossed and evaluated in a series of co-operative trials with the Department of Agriculture (Grootfontein) and sheep farmers in the Northern Cape between 1933 and 1946. Their aim was to develop a hardy mutton sheep capable of surviving, reproducing and producing fast-growing lambs off the veld in the low rainfall areas of the country. The Dorper Sheep Breeders’ Society was established in 1950. The Dorper breed is now numerically the second largest breed in South Africa and has spread to many countries throughout the world.
The black headed Dorper is more common: a white sheep with black confined to the head and neck is the ideal.
The Dorper is primarily a mutton sheep and meets these requirements exceptionally well. It has a long breeding season which is not seasonally limited. A good manager can organize his program so that lambs can be dropped at any time of the year. The breed is fertile and the percentage of ewes that become pregnant in one mating season is relatively high. There is a strong possibility of twins.
The Dorper is well adapted to a variety of climatic and grazing conditions. It is hardy and can thrive under range conditions where other breeds can barely exist and the ewe can raise a lamb of reasonable quality under fairly severe conditions. As a strong and non-selective grazer it can advantageously be incorporated into a well-planned range management system.
The Dorper is an easy care breed which requires a minimum of labour. Its skin covering, which is a mixture of hair and wool, will drop off if not shorn to keep it tidy. The Dorper has a thick skin which is highly prized and protects the sheep under harsh climatic conditions.
The Dorper skin is one of the most sought after sheepskins in the world. The skin comprises a high percentage of the income (20%) of the total carcass value.