I am an Australian woman who made the move from the city to the country. Our Dorpers have brought us so much joy.
Have you been thinking of getting a few sheep to keep the lawn down? Or as a pet for you or your children? Maybe even breed a few? Here are a few tips from my experiences.
I highly recommend the Dorper breed of sheep. This breed is a South African breed and was only introduced into Australia in the 1990s. The Dorper was developed in the 1930s by crossing a Dorset ram with a Persian ewe. The Dorset has white wool and the Persian has a black head. The main reason this hybrid was created was for its meat, not its wool.
You see, this sheep doesn't need shearing—it sheds its fleece once a year. It is becoming more and more popular not just in Australia, but worldwide for this very reason. They are also very hardy animals and can live in very harsh conditions. They have thrived in desert-like conditions all over Africa and can even handle the snowy conditions of the UK and Tasmania in Australia!
Two years ago, my husband thought it would be nice to surprise me with a ram, two ewes and a lamb for my birthday! We had talked about getting a few sheep to keep the grass down on our 25 acres. I just wasn't expecting four sheep to arrive on my birthday.
My husband, being South African, told me about this breed. There are two varieties of Dorper. The white Dorper and the black headed or black faced Dorper. We chose the black faced because they are an amazing looking animal, quite beautiful. The black head makes them look very striking and certainly attracts attention. Until recently, not many people were familiar with this breed in Australia. But now they are becoming very popular in Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the USA.
We bought our Dorpers for pets, and to breed since we had a ram! We did lots of research on keeping sheep. We read books, found information on the internet, spoke to the local vet, the animal produce store, visited local breeders of Dorpers and watched lots of YouTube videos. The YouTube videos were fantastic. I highly recommend Googling the internet and YouTube. We learnt how to vaccinate, drench, dock tails, tag ears, trim hooves and neuter the male lambs. We had never done anything like this before. We only ever had cats, dogs, budgies and cockatoo's as pets!
Why Dorpers Are Better Than Other Sheep Breeds
- Very friendly if raised from young, making great pets (ewe's and wethers only)
- Often have twins and even triplets
- Keep the grass down
- Eat weeds
- No need for shearing
- Very hardy
- Sociable (better to have 2 or more sheep, as they like company)
- Less susceptible to fly strike
If you want sheep for their wool, then this is not the breed to have.
Fun Times We Have Had
Our Dorpers have bought us so much joy. We have had a few lambs and they are one of the most gorgeous-looking baby animals I have ever seen. Because our sheep are pets, we have given them names. Our ram is Rambo. And he is as tough as the movie legend! Our two older ewes are Ewe-nice and Ewe-genie. They are the friendliest of all our sheep. We even put reindeer antlers on them at Christmas time. (great photos for our Christmas cards!) I am sure the neighbors thought we had reindeer instead of sheep! We called our first twin girls Rosemary (after the herb) and Ellie-may (from the Beverly Hill Billies). We had twin girl and boy and named them after the actress Holly Hunter. The female is Holly, and the male is Hunter (we live in the Hunter Valley). He is a lovely pet as we neutered him. (he is what they call in sheep terms, a whether) The last set of twins that were born were named Domino and Oreo. (We had the black and white theme happening.) Can you guess what we named our property? Ewetopia!
We have had quite a few lambs born. Most were twins and we even had a set of triplets. Sadly, one of the triplets did not survive. The young lambs are so adorable. They love to play and are always trying to climb up onto something. To see them running and pronking (where they hop fast on all fours!) is a sight to see! They love to run up our cattle ramp and jump off the end. Whenever they get the chance, they sneak into our chook shed (chicken coup!) and eat all the chicken feed!
The "Not So" Fun Times
Having sheep or any pet for that matter, isn't always smooth sailing. We have had some sad, some difficult and some frustrating times too.
Our ram for example. He was so cute and friendly when we got him. He was about 8 months old. Then not long after, the hormones kicked in! We read everywhere and were told... "rams do NOT make good pets" They are male and need to dominate and not just other sheep! I remember going to feed him one day as I had been doing for months and months. He would follow me and enjoy a scratch. But this particular day, out of the blue, he head-butted my knee, quite hard, which left a small bruise. That was nothing compared to what happened next.... to my husband! He was bringing the sheep in one day and didn't open a certain gate. (sheep love routine and yes, they follow, just like sheep!) My husband forgot to open one of the gates for our ram to walk through. My husband was doing something and the next minute, found himself on the ground! Our ram had headbutted him side-on and knocked him flying and then backed up and came at him again! My husband tried to hold him back by the horns (our ram has horns which came in handy at that moment!) and managed to escape. From that day on, we never forgot to open his gate and never went into his yard without being super careful. We are always on guard and make sure no-one goes near our ram. You can never make a pet out of a ram. They might look small but they are incredibly powerful beasts. And this is normal and just in their nature to be dominant. My husband was left with a huge bruise but was more worried about whether the neighbors saw him get bowled over!
A few weeks ago, my son wanted to bury a dead bird that literally dropped out of the sky! My son and I were in the back yard and just above our heads, a hawk was being chased by some small birds. The hawk was holding this bird and then dropped it right in front of us!! The poor bird was dead. So my son took a shovel, went into the back paddock to dig a hole. Thirty seconds later, I saw a shovel come flying through the air and my son not far behind. The next thing I saw Rambo our ram a few metres behind my son! I know I shouldn't have, but I did laugh! it was a sight to see my 6'3" son hurdle a fence. The dead bird never got buried.
The Dorpers we have are not purebred or full bloods. Ours are crosses so their markings are not perfect. You have to pay top dollar for pure breds. But ours do have more Dorper in them than any other breed. Most breeders with pure bred Dorpers show their sheep. We are not showing ours. We are just happy to have them as pets. We do sell the lambs and they have gone to farmers that are building up their Dorper flock. So, if you thinking of getting Dorper sheep or any breed of sheep, remember, they do need care and maintenance. But the effort is certainly rewarding!
Watch out for my next Hubpage..... it will be all about the bugs, snakes, lizards and crows I have encountered!
© 2012 AussieTreeChange
Caroline on January 07, 2020:
Will a former and a dog get along?
Michael on September 27, 2017:
I raise Dorpers and other hair sheep and one rule is you never turn your back on a ram. Always know where your ram is when your in their pen. Good common sense :)
StrictlyQuotes from Australia on December 03, 2012:
I agree, your article is very informative, I love your photos too they are just the most adorable looking sheep.
AussieTreeChange (author) from New South Wales Australia on November 30, 2012:
Thank you Nettlemere for your comment! Very much appreciated. I had NEVER heard of or seen a Dorper up until 2 years ago. I never thought I would have sheep let alone this particular breed. They are certainly beautiful looking sheep and not having to shear is a huge bonus! I am glad you enjoyed my article. I am so happy to be able to share my experience and help promote the amazing Dorper!
Nettlemere from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on November 30, 2012:
Having cared for quite a lot of sheep I'm always interested to read about a breed that I haven't come across before. I'm not aware of any Dorpers in the UK, but that not needing shearing quality is very tempting for the potential small scale sheep owner. And they are a striking looking breed too which is a bonus. Enjoyable and interesting article.