Image: Mal Brady
When it comes to suitability, the Dorper and semi-arid western region of New South Wales are a match made in heaven.
That’s what esteemed industry stalwart Mal Brady believes.
Mr Brady’s extensive experience with the Dorper breed – and the region – as a stock agent, Dorper breeder and breed advocate, puts him in good stead to hold firm the belief that the breed was responsible for bringing the western region “back from the brink of despair”.
“When the drought hit the western region, there was widespread devastation,” Mr Brady said.
“Sons were leaving properties because they didn’t see a future.
“They could not make money. It was bloody tough.”
The arrival of the Dorper to the region where the annual average rainfall rarely surpasses more than 254mm, turned things around. Succession planning took on renewed meaning. Property purchases increased, with neighbours buying out neighbours.
Mr Brady’s first introduction to meat sheep breeds was with the Damara breed in his quest to transition to a self-shedding breed.
“Damara suited us as it was the best for mobbing and herding together but we found we couldn’t sell the meat,” Mr Brady said. “Butchers didn’t like the shape of them.”
Mr Brady, who owned BR&C Agents for nearly 30 years, dabbled with the Dorsett – “one in three years you might click it and the butcher is happy” – before transitioning to the Dorper.
“As our breeding improved, our results got better and better in that western division,” Mr Brady said.
“We were aiming to get more ‘leg’ but we kept coming back to what the Dorper was invented for reaching the 18-24 kg weight quickly – they are perfect on that low 10 inch rainfall.
“Even in tough year the shape is there.
“Now they are a better bred.
“The more they put into rams and classing of their ewes, the better-quality lambs, the more processors are wanting them, especially in a tough time and when there is a lot of lambs about.”
A solid season has created another issue in the western region – an influx of spear grass.
While the Dorper breed is not immune to grass seed contamination, unlike other breeds, its thicker skin and self-shedding helps.
“The skin is thicker so it’s harder for the grass seed to stick and penetrate,” Mr Brady said. “The Dorper has had some seed contamination but not anywhere near the others.
“The grass seed contamination results in processors discounting farmers and makes it hard for export.”
Mr Brady said the Dorper delivers in bad, good and “really good” seasons, in a region marked by “some of the hardest country going” but most rewarding with the Dorper breed.
“They can handle the drought and get to a marketable lamb size,” Mr Brady said.
“In good years they are perfect – they get them up to 24kg, and in a really good year they don’t get that discount with the seed side of it.”
Mr Brady said while the Dorper “sells itself to a certain extent” studs who have invested in genetics have changed their quality “very quickly”.
He said the forward-thinking clients were also benefiting from premium returns for surplus ewes, with some fetching $100 and more over other breeds.
“There is still a lot of variance out there in the breed but nearly all shedding breeds now have got some Dorper component,” Mr Brady said.
“If you buy as good a rams as you possibly can, it will look after itself – that’s what my experience has taught me.
“I’ve seen my clients go forward and some stay the same – the people that did buy as good a ram as they possibly could, went forward in leaps and bounds and the door is open to wherever they want to market them.
“They are a self-replacement flock but also financially very rewarding when you sell surplus females – and with three joinings in two years, there’s volume of retained ewes sold.”
Mr Brady believes genetics holds the key to the breed’s future.
“The genetic gains are there,” Mr Brady said.
“There are studs that are trying hard to keep ahead of the game, which is very important.
“I think opposition breeds have helped in that it has kept everyone on their toes. Competition is awesome.
“The world is the oyster for the breed.
For producers in the higher rainfall areas, growing Dorpers will present with a different set of challenges particularly around parasite control. However the breed’s adaptability to a range of production system make it a versatile meat sheep option.
2023 DSSA Journal, Page 30 – 31.