The Dorper breed of meat sheep is prized for its ability to put on weight in poorer pasture conditions and Charles Sturt University PhD graduate Dr Susan Street’s research has put this to the test.
Dr Street’s research through the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation compared rumen function and digestive efficiency in Merino and Dorper sheep fed a range of diets.
“Introduced to Australia from South Africa in 1996, the Dorper has become one of the fastest growing meat breeds in the country, in terms of uptake by sheep producers,” said Dr Street.
“This has been attributed mainly to the breed’s adaptability and ability to produce marketable lambs under less than ideal pasture conditions.”
The research involved grazing and animal house studies to examine animal production and rumen parameters in sheep fed diets of varying quality.
“For all grazing trials the average liveweight (LW) and body condition score (BCS) of the Dorper sheep was greater than that of the Merino ewes,” Dr Street said.
“When grazing a low quality diet of wheat straw, after an initial decline in condition, Dorper sheep maintained BCS and LW while both the BCS and LW of the Merino ewes declined over the experimental period.”
Dr Street (pictured with Associate Professor Gaye Krebs and fellow PhD graduate Dr Lucy Watt) said the findings support why Dorpers perform better than merino under less than ideal pasture conditions.
“The results also indicate that that there were differences in diet selection and/or feed intake between the two sheep breeds when fed certain diets, for example lucerne/clover mix pasture or cereal stubble.
“More research needs to be conducted to establish if diet selection does differ in the Dorper compared to Merino sheep.
“Undertaking this research in a much more complex grazing system, such as the rangelands, would be particularly useful given the increase in popularity of this breed in these areas of Australia.”
The research was supported by Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) and supervised by Associate Professor Gaye Krebs from the Charles Sturt School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences and Dr Edward Clayton from the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI).