Lucrative lamb production with the hardy Dohne

By setting long-term breeding goals and with careful selection, aimed at exploiting the potential of the Dohne breed, Bobsey Hart has built a sheep enterprise with an enviable record. Cameron McMaster reports.
Issue Date: 30 November 2007

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Bobsey Hart, ace lamb producer and entrepreneur, with a flock of his sheep on his farm in the Cathcart district.

By setting long-term breeding goals and with careful selection, aimed at exploiting the potential of the Dohne breed, Bobsey Hart has built a sheep enterprise with an enviable record. Cameron McMaster reports.

The Hopewell Dohne stud runs on the harsh sourveld of Eastern Cape and gets no special treatment – something that has taken three decades of selective breeding to achieve. Breeding stock has consistently been selected from animals showing traits for hardiness, adaptability and productivity.

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The farm is situated in the Happy Valley area of the Cathcart district and is now run by Bobsey Hart, whose father Tony used to run a fine-wool Merino flock on this farm. In the early 1970s he sourced rams from Whitehead in Bedford under the supervision of the legendary Bonnie Rose. Rose persuaded Tony to use Letelle rams in pursuance of a dual-purpose flock, but subsequently Tony decided to switch to Dohne rams to increase fleece weight and reproduction rates, while keeping the emphasis on fine wool. Because he considered it economical to breed his own rams, he started a foundation flock programme in 1978 and registered the Hopewell Dohne stud. As soon as sufficient stud ewes were available, the stud was linked to the Eastern Dohne Central Nucleus (EDCN) stud, which has been a source of additional flock rams ever since. In the early days the farming operation included a Jersey stud and beef cattle, as well as the sheep. Although the cattle were gradually phased out, they are important to the optimal use of sourveld, so Bobsey leases the land to a neighbouring cattle farmer to graze his herds. This strategy works well because it provides him with a steady, reliable cash flow and keeps the veld in good condition without the risk and responsibility of breeding cattle. Building the best At the time when the Dohne influence was increasing, it was possible to develop the lamb production potential. Growth rates improved slowly and the lambs were finished and marketed earlier, which systematically increased the ewe flock. For a number of years all wether lambs were finished in feedlots on the farm. While this was profitable, it was decided there was greater benefit in concentrating on increasing lamb production and marketing store lambs (unfattened lambs). In this way overheads and labour costs could be contained.

In today’s market, there is a consistent and growing demand from numerous regular clients anxious to take up the stores as they become available. There is also a big demand for all the surplus young ewes that are offered for sale as stores or breeding stock each year. To maximise the lamb production of the commercial flock, Bobsey has resorted to lambing three times a year on an effective, accelerated lambing programme. Despite the harsh environment, selective breeding has made this feasible.

The main lambing time is August, with smaller groups lambing in November and April. Ewes are mated again after the lambs are weaned, which means each ewe lambs three times in two years. A total of 6 000 ewes are currently mated in the accelerated lambing cycle. Bobsey invested in pregnancy-scanning apparatus to identify empty ewes for re-mating and to identify and isolate twin-bearing ewes. Supplementary feed in the form of chopped lucerne, hay, maize and molasses meal, spread on the veld, is provided as a flush before mating (200g per sheep per day) and before lambing (300g per sheep per day). At lambing, ewes are moved to ryegrass, triticale or oats pasture and eventually put back to the veld. After weaning, wether lambs are offered for sale when they reach an average live weight of 25kg to 27kg. Ewe lambs are reared in large flocks on the veld. The stud ewes are mated only for lambing in August.

Young stud ewes run on the veld with their commercial contemporaries in flocks in excess of 1 000. A small number of selected flock ewes are advanced to the stud each year after they have been through a performance-screening test. In this way only ewes that have shown superiority under severe commercial conditions are selected as replacements in the stud. By following this policy and using only highly productive rams bred within the system, Bobsey has seen a steady improvement in the flock. The excellent performance of Hopewell Dohne store lambs means clients continue to compete to buy them. This year Bobsey introduced a novel method of marketing.While treating his clients to a sumptuous dinner at the local club, he provided details of numbers and live weights of the current lamb crop and invited tenders on a rand-per-kilogram basis. In this way the entire lamb crop was sold in one evening with minimum marketing costs. The confidence of both seller and buyers in the product ensured the success of the strategy. Contact Bobsey Hart on (045) 843 1738, or e-mail [email protected] |fw