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Growing breed Dorpers gaining popularity in marketplace

Written by Saige

With markets falling into place and consumer demand increasing, one Lexington, Neb. sheep producer sees a bright future for white Dorpers. 

“The market is wide open, and the ground floor is there,” Neal Amsberry told fellow producers during the Mid-States Hair Sheep Producers tour. 

Amsberry has started converting his own flock of Katahdin and Dorper crosses over to white Dorpers. 

“I went from strictly commercial to adding 26 purebred white Dorpers,” he says. 

His goal is consistency. 

“The white Dorpers are like pigs. They are all the same. What I like about them is that they produce a uniform, quality product,” he explains. “The Katahdins can be tall or short, fat or thin. The market will pay up there more for a consistent, quality product.”

The Dorper breed

There are two lines of Dorpers in the U.S. 

“There is the Dorper, which has a black head,” Amsberry says. “The white Dorper is solid white with dark pigmented skin around the eyes and tail area, like mascara around the eyes.”

Amsberry likes that the white Dorper feeder lambs can easily reach 110 pounds in five months. They are known for being similar in size to one another and producing big ribeyes and loins. 

“They are very consistent, and they grow really fast. The ethnic market calls for a 65 to 80 pound lamb, which can be produced in 60 to 80 days,” he continues. 

The Dorpers also have a dressage percentage of 60 percent or better, which Amsberry compares to a mere 52 percent for a goat.

Origins

Like Boer goats, the hair sheep breeds came to the U.S. from South Africa. Because they are relatively new, finding new genetics and bloodlines can be a challenge. 

“There are not millions of them in the U.S., so it will take time to build a herd here,” Amsberry explains. “However, people raising wool breeds are starting to replace them with hair sheep.”

Taste and flavor

Consumers who try Dorper find it has a taste and flavor that is different from other lamb meat. 

“I have found it doesn’t have that lanolin flavor that wool sheep have, especially the older animals,” he says. 

In fact, Amsberry feels like Dorper burgers could have been a hit at his “Nothing But Goat” grill he operated up until a few years ago. 

“I think the Dorper burger could have been a better burger than the goat burgers I was serving because of their flavor,” he says. 

Challenges

Currently, finding good markets for Dorpers can be challenging, but Amsberry sees that changing.

“There is a packing plant in Texas that pays well for Dorpers year-round, but we have to keep them longer. They want the finished lambs around 110 to 120 pounds,” he explains. “That is why many producers concentrate on strategically breeding Dorpers seasonally, so they can market the lambs when prices are highest.” 

“Between Jan. 1 and April 1, the market typically pays $2.30 to $2.80 a pound,” he says.

The ethnic market is key to marketing Dorpers, Amsberry says, so many producers plan their breeding programs around the ethnic calendar. 

“The ethnic market calls for the Dorpers to not be docked or castrated,” he says. “Right now, the demand is so high in the U.S., we utilize every animal we can produce here.”

Differences

Amsberry says feeding Dorpers differs from feeding wool sheep. 

“The Dorpers don’t require a high protein concentrate,” he explains. “I feed creep that is about 16 percent protein until they are weaned or about 60 days old,” he says. “It takes about 60 days to get them to the 60 to 80 pound range. They will gain about half to three-quarters a pound a day.”

After weaning, Amsberry changes his ration to a lower protein pellet of 13 to 14 percent, which he limit feeds at one-half pound a day. The lambs also have access to free-choice second cutting alfalfa. 

“By the time they are four to five months old, they should weigh around 100 pounds. The older they are, the less protein they need,” he says.

“A lot of wool breeds are fed a full feed, usually all the whole corn they can eat,” he continues “We can’t do that with a Dorper efficiently because they put on fat more readily. The market calls for less than one-quarter inch of back fat on Dorpers.”

Looking forward

Amsberry’s future plans revolve around doubling his hair sheep flock to nearly 400 head and acquiring more purebred animals. He really enjoys developing a breeding program for the Dorpers, and finding and utilizing new genetics. 

“I like that the Dorpers are pretty much self-sufficient and can take care of themselves,” he explains. “Most are pretty good milkers, and their milk must be rich in protein and fat because the lambs seem to need less of it than kid goats.”

“The Dorper lambs are up eating grass or hay within 24 hours of birth, and they start drinking out of a water tank right away, Amsberry says. “I think there is a place for every animal, but I also think the Dorpers have a real future here in the U.S.”

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..