Hardy Dorper sheep thrive in arid West Texas

Dorpers are raised for meat, not wool, and thrive in harsh country

01/25/2013 10:39 PM

01/26/2013 7:49 AM

FORT WORTH -- This breed of sheep never tries to pull its wool over your eyes.

"Wool sheep grow 3 or 4 inches of wool. But Dorpers grow about an inch of wool and hair," said Warren Cude of Fort Stockton, talking about the relatively new breed of sheep he is showing today at the Stock Show.

"You try to get one that's not too woolly or too hairy. Ideally you want a 50-50 mix of hair and wool."

Dorpers are known as "hair sheep" or "meat sheep" because they are made to be consumed, not shorn.

"They are natural shedders," said Cude, adding that Dorper raisers want their animals to maintain enough hair and light wool to protect them from insects and sunburn.

The Dorper breed was originated in the 1950s in South Africa by crossbreeding Dorset horn rams and blackhead Persian ewes. The breed came to America in the early 1990s, Cude said.

Dorper breeders consider their sheep to be exceptionally hardy because they thrive even in rough and arid West Texas where Cude ranches. That is at least in part because they both "graze" (eat grass) and "browse" (eat vegetation from bushes and trees).

"They take in about 25 percent of their food like a goat would, eating above their heads," said Cude, who is chairman of the American Dorper Sheep Breeders Society's show and sale committee.

Cude described Dorpers as "the second fastest growing breed registry in the United States" and said that demand for the sheep their meat exceeds supply.

"The ethnic markets drive the sheep and goat industry," said Cude, explaining that demand for Dorper meat is highest among Middle Eastern populations. So, although Texas can boast more Dorpers than other states, most of the meat goes to the Northeast, and there is nothing left for export.

"We cannot produce enough commercial ewe lambs. I've got a waiting list of buyers," said Cude, who is a past president of the breed's national association.

Cude said the challenge for Dorper breeders in the United States is to "try not to Americanize them and try not to screw them up." To that end, the breeders society has developed a judge's certification program to make sure there is rigor and consistency in judging show Dorpers.

"We are the only breed of sheep in the United States that does that," said Cude, whose family spread is the 3C Ranch.

You can see the Dorpers and their certified judges in two shows and a sale at the Stock Show today: the Regional Youth Dorper Sheep Open Show at 8 a.m., the Regional Dorper Sheep Open Show at 12:30 p.m., and the Fort Worth Regional Dorper Sheep Sale at 6 p.m., all in the Stock Show's Sheep Arena.

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