The Dorper sheep was developed in the 1930’s by the Department of Agriculture of South Africa when they did a crossing with a Dorset Horn Ram and Blackhead Persian ewes.
After the First World War, increased interest developed in South Africa in crossing indigenous sheep, like the Persian and Merino with British mutton breed rams. The precise reason for this phenomenon is not clear. As a result of circumstances such as the depression, surplus mutton and the slump in wool prices in the early 30’s, the exporting of mutton and lamb received more attention. To the English market the fat-tail type sheep were both strange and new and according to their system of grading not desirable.
A need originated for a fairly good mutton sheep which could produce fast growing lambs on veld conditions with a good quality carcass. In the Western Cape, a prerequisite was that the ewes must be rutting in November-December in order to lamb from April. In the Karoo areas, the aim was to replace the fat-tail types with a breed with a more acceptable carcass. The initial need was to produce a sheep breed suitable to the demanding low rainfall areas of the Northern Province. A relatively easy care sheep with an acceptable meat carcass had to be found for these difficult circumstances.
The most important characteristics required for the breed were probably the following:
- Satisfactory lambing ability.
- Reasonably acceptable meat carcass.
- A good slaughter lamb on normal pasture conditions at 4-5 months.
- Resistance against cold wind, rain and extremely high temperatures.
- A versatile sheep and good utilizer of tough grass and shrub vegetation.
- Satisfactory reproductive fitness.
- Easy care without lamb shearing problems
- Fair amount of color and pigmentation
With this goal in mind, co-operative experiments were done by farmers on a small scale in the Karoo. Due to the outstanding performance of the Blackhead Persian, especially under harsh environmental conditions. This breed was selected as the mother breed. The Dorset Horn was selected for it demonstrated a longer breeding season in comparison to other British sheep breeds.