Breeding to the breed standard pays off

The Dorper and the White Dorper are hardy mutton breeds that can produce under suboptimal veld conditions. Achieving a high lambing rate requires fertility and conformation to breed standards.
Namaqualand stud breeder Pikkie Rossouw showed Jacques Claassen how he achieves these.

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It is claimed that the Dorper can lamb three times in two years. To achieve this goal, it is crucial to strictly select the correct weaned ewe lambs for breeding purposes. After all, ewes are the nucleus of any flock, whether stud or commercial.

Pikkie Rossouw, who farms on Katdoringvlei near Brand-se-Baai in the southern part of Namaqualand on the West Coast, says that only ewe lambs showing an excellent feminine form should be considered. He describes such an animal as one having a slender, slightly longer neck, forequarters that are less meaty than the hindquarters, and an inside thigh that does not carry too much meat. If it does, her birth canal may be too narrow and there may be insufficient space for a good udder.

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Pikkie’s Springduin White Dorper stud dates back to 1979, while his Platklip Dorper stud was started in the early 1990s. A three-year-old ewe from his White Dorper stud recently had her second set of twins, giving birth to triplets in between. Pikkie is a show judge and one of only 28 inspectors from South Africa and Namibia appointed by the Dorper Sheep Breeders’ Society of South Africa. In an average year, he inspects as many as 14 000 Dorpers and White Dorpers. Unsurprisingly, he has a keen eye for selection, and presents training courses to assist other farmers and prospective farmers.

In this kraal near the homestead, Pikkie Rossouw fosters lambs from multiples or from ewes that had problems lambing, as well as ewes that did not lamb or had lost their lambs. Ewes not lambing during the winter or not conceiving for the end of the year lambing period are culled and slaughtered.

“A ram should have a brick-like build, good overall length and a well-proportioned head, neck, forequarters, trunk and hind legs,” he explains.

“The ewe, on the other hand, shouldn’t be too meaty. She should be wedge-shaped. A square brick-like ewe that’s excessively meaty, especially in the forequarters and neck, can sustain herself, but will have difficulty conceiving and producing enough milk for her offspring. Usually ewes such as this also have difficulty in lambing.”

Pikkie ascribes his success with his two studs mainly to careful selection based on the breed standards, natural mating and a conservative veld stocking rate that leaves enough forage for his sheep. His 8 000ha Katdoringvlei farm has a long-term average annual rainfall of only 200mm, falling mainly in winter. He produces wheat, lupins, oats and barley on 1 500ha, while he has established oumansoutbos (Atriplex nummularia) in strips on 1 000ha.

Although the recommended stocking is 6ha/SAU, he stocks at a rate of 10ha/SAU to conserve the veld and ensure enough grazing for his animals. His flock of 800 ewes consists of 400 stud White Dorpers, 150 stud Dorpers and 250 commercial ewes.

During years of normal rainfall, the ewes achieve a lambing rate of 130% to 140% without any lick or supplementation. However, he feeds some animals balanced pellets before an auction. He usually sells his grain and puts the sheep onto the oats and wheatlands only after crop failure. Apart from grazing the natural veld and oumansoutbos, his animals are given access to the lupin lands towards summer, which helps to ensure that he has a second lambing season. This year, Pikkie planted 120ha to lupins.

The lupins fix nitrogen in the soil and allow for the control of predikantsluis or Ripgut brome (Bromus diandrus) by spraying the lupin lands. This enables him to plant wheat on the same lands the next year.

Being a winter rainfall area, the primary lambing season on Katdoringvlei is April to late August. For a second lambing season in years with good rainfall and veld grazing, he again puts rams to the ewes from mid-June to end-July to lamb from mid-November until late-December. Only ewes that had just one lamb in April, or which lost their lambs to predators or for other reasons, are put to the ram for a second mating.

He has sold rams for R30 000 to R40 000 each, but his average selling price at auctions or directly off the farm is R5 000 to R6 000. On auctions, his five best rams average between R12 000 and R14 000. Ram lambs are weaned at 3½ months at 38kg to 42kg, while ewe lambs are weaned at five months. Lambs not selected for the stud flocks are either marked for slaughter or go to the commercial flock.

Dorpers and White Dorpers have strong maternal instincts and their lambs grow quickly. Their lambs are market-ready at four months, in comparison with lambs from other breeds that are marketed at five to five-and-a-half months. Pikkie advises that selection for fertility and conformation should be the same in stud and commercial flocks, and a larger ewe will not produce a larger, heavier lamb.

“With quality carcasses at a relatively early age, Dorpers and White Dorpers dominate slaughter lamb competitions,” he explains. “Due to the current scarcity of slaughter lambs, producers receive R60/kg, compared with R50/kg a year ago. If you slaughter a three-and-a-half month old ram lamb at 42kg live weight, the carcass will weigh 20kg. This is an excellent income at current prices.”

He maintains that most producers sell slaughter lambs that are already too heavy.

“A carcass of 18kg achieves the best grade. That weight can be achieved sooner if the ewes are selected according to the breed standards. Whenever Dorper and White Dorper farmers try to produce lambs with excessively meaty frames, deviations from the accepted breed standards will occur.”

Phone Pikkie Rossouw on 027 632 5043, or email his son Koos at [email protected].