Dorset sheep are hardy, low maintenance, and highly profitable under good care. Unlike other sheep with seasonal breeding, the Dorset can breed any time of the year, and the ewes can give birth twice annually.
Moreover, these sheep have superior meat quality, decent fleece, and produce respectable amounts of milk. It’s no wonder this breed ranks second most popular sheep breed in the United States.
If you want to rear sheep for commercial purposes, then the Dorset breed is worthy of consideration.
Let’s look deeper at the Dorset sheep and why you should add some to your flock.
Quick Facts About The Dorset Sheep Breed
|Country of origin||England|
|Breed Varieties||Horned Dorset, Polled Dorset|
|Breed purpose||Meat, wool|
|Mature body weight||Ram: 225 – 275 pounds
Ewe: 150 – 200 pounds
|Average fiber diameter||27-33 Microns
Wool grade (USDA): 46’s – 56’s
|Grease fleece weight||5 – 9 pounds|
|Fleece staple length||2.5 – 4 inches|
|Life span||10-12 years|
The History of the Dorset Sheep Breed
Though the Dorset sheep has existed for several centuries, there are no positive records of its origin.
However, some historians have linked its origin to the alleged Spanish invasion of England due to its close genetic relationship with the Spain merino sheep.
According to that narrative, Spain brought the Merino sheep into southern England, where it crossed with the horned sheep of Wales to produce the Dorset breed.
The Dorset breed was an all-purpose sheep that met the lambing and meat needs of that time and quickly spread across the areas of Somerset, Devon, Dorset, and Wales.
Its popularity and spread continued, reaching the United States in 1800, Oregon in 1860, and the East Coast in 1885.
The Characteristics of the Dorset Sheep Breed
The Dorset sheep comes in two main varieties of horned and polled animals. Their main difference is that one has horns while the other doesn’t, and the horned variety has a slightly smaller body.
Both Dorset varieties are all-white, with solid bodies, wide faces, and medium-length legs. Also, they have a similar prolific breeding trait, and their rams do well as terminal sires rather than as breeders.
Dorset sheep are mainly kept for their meat. This is because they have superior muscle composition, and their carcasses have a good balance in muscle and leanness.
A mature well-fed Dorset ram can achieve a weight of 225 to 275 pounds, while a mature ewe can range from 150 to 200 pounds.
Though not their primary purpose, the Dorset sheep also produce considerably good wool. The fleece is all white, strong, and has no dark fibers.
A ewe can average five to nine pounds of fleece with a yield of 50% to 70%. The fleece staple length ranges from 2.5 to 4 inches with a fiber diameter range of 27.0 and 33.0 microns.
Dorset Sheep Varieties
The Dorset Horn sheep
The Horned Dorset is the oldest and most common Dorset sheep breed variety. It originated in the United Kingdom as a crossbreed of wales horned and merino sheep. Both rams and ewes have horns.
The Polled Dorset Sheep
The polled breed originated from a genetic mutation of the horned Dorset after several years of breeding. It was created in the U.S. during the 1950s at the North Carolina State College.
The researchers at the college developed the breed from the Dorset lambs that grew no horns after several years of crossbreeding Horned Dorset sheep.
Typical Dorset Sheep Behavior
The Dorset sheep have a docile disposition. They learn routines easily and can be handled effortlessly by even beginner shepherds. Even for the horned variety, you’ll rarely find an aggressive one unless under provocation.
But care should be taken when handling rams as they can be a little aggressive, especially during mating seasons.
The Dorset sheep are very social and have no issue living harmoniously with other farm animals.
However, it’s always good to socialize your animals with each other from an early age. Also, supervise interactions between your sheep and predator pets like dogs and owls.
How to Care For the Dorset Sheep Breed
Though Dorset sheep are hardy animals that can survive harsh conditions, a little care will ensure they grow and produce as expected. Here are some ways to care for your Dorset sheep.
1. Provide enough feed
Dorset sheep are heavy feeders that can graze for up to seven hours daily. If you want to keep them in open fields, ensure enough pasture is available for your animals.
A good practice is to supplement the pastures with quality hay, grains, mineral supplements, and commercial feeds.
In addition, ensure your sheep have access to fresh drinking water and salt licks. Also, consider fencing your farm to contain the sheep and keep predators away.
2. Build a shelter
A shelter is a place for your sheep to rest and be protected against adverse weather and predators. While a barn could be excellent for your flock, Dorset sheep can do with a three-sided shelter.
Experts recommend you create a shelter with several stalls to separate your sheep according to criteria like sickness or pregnancy.
If possible, consider adding thick beddings, ventilation, and lighting in the shelters to enhance their comfort. You can also have a shelter in the field for your animals to rest in the summer.
3. Keeping your animals healthy
Keeping your sheep healthy goes beyond providing a balanced diet and clean drinking water. You need to keep pests and parasites away and groom your animals.
Vaccinate and deworm regularly and get vet assistance early if you notice any behavior changes. Trimming the hooves as needed is good practice to reduce cases of foot rot and difficulty in walking.
In addition, shear your sheep at least twice annually to reduce the discomfort caused by overgrown wool.
Though its origin is unclear, the Dorset sheep breed’s great qualities and production are undeniable. This crossbreed of merino and wales horned sheep is known for its prolific breeding and superior quality meat and wool.
They are mainly kept for meat and wool production, lambing, and terminal siring. The Dorset sheep are good pet animals but are better kept for commercial purposes. And the good thing is they are easy to raise, even for novice herders.