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Why I chose to keep Dorper sheep over other breeds

By Philip Keittany
Mzee Paul Paul ole Nagisikie at his farm looking after his dorper sheep. [Photo: Standard]

Deep in Erankau village some 6km from Sultan Hamud sits an impressive 400 hectare Dorper sheep sanctuary.

The farm run by Mzee Paul ole Nagisikie and his brother, has been a learning centre for other farmers. The farm has more than 300 top Dorper sheep and boasts hosting best breeds in Africa.

“I have been doing this kind of farming for the last 40 years and I have no complaints. I started with a few indigenous sheep and after visiting the KARLO farm in Kiboko, I got my first Dorper breed that I used to improve my indigenous breeds,” says Mzee Nagisikie as he ushers Smart Harvest team to his farm.

With those years under his belt, he is now a master of the game, transferring his skill to other interested farmers.

On arrival, we find Mzee Nagisikie, his brother and several relatives busy at the expansive ranch shearing and tail docking.They do this every so often.

Tail docking, which is the cutting of lamb’s tails, helps to improve health and welfare of sheep and lambs. It also prevents feacal matter from accumulating on the tail and hindquarters of the animal.

The farm sources its Dorper breeds from South Africa, importing one ram every year to minimise inbreeding among his flock.

Having been at it for years, Nagisikie says he has exhausted all dorper breeds from South Africa and is now looking forward to getting new breeds from Australia. “In the last few years, I have gotten more than four varieties of Dorper sheep available in South Africa and I now think I have exhausted all Dorper breeds in that country. I am now eyeing breeds from Australia,” he says.

Birth to twins

So attractive are his flock, almost 80 per cent give birth to twins while a few others have triplets, which the breeder says is because of their huge bodies.

He however says those that give birth to triplets are a challenge when it comes to feeding lambs as the mothers are not able to produce enough milk for all of them. In some cases, they are forced to get a foster mother to one of the lambs among the flock to save it from starving.

On a mission

Despite the growing demand for mutton in Kenya, Mzee says his breeds are not bred for the slaughter house. His farm is a Dorper -breeding farm and he wants to help Kenyan farmers improve their flock.

“Every year, we select more than a 100 rams that are 7 months old that we sell to other farmers at a cost of Sh45,000 for the sole purpose of helping them improve their breeds,” says Mzee Nagisikie.

The dorper sheep is a cross-breed between the black headed Persian sheep (an African breed) and the Dorset horn (a British breed) that was developed in South Africa between 1945 and 1950. It is a very successful and adaptable breed that has been exported to many countries including Australia. It was introduced into Kenya about 50 years ago. There are two types: the dorper with a black head, neck and legs, and the ‘white dorper’ with a white head.

According to Mzee, the sheep performs well in semiarid areas. They have a high lambing percentage and can breed every eight months. They lamb easily and are excellent mothers. They are also disease resistant and not susceptible to fly strike. Lambs gain weight quickly, mature early and may be mated at around 9 months.

Good qualities

“Dorper sheep is also known to respond very well to good care and management.  To improve profitability of any sheep breed you need to improve husbandry: good feeding, housing, disease and parasite control and vaccinations,” says Mzee.

To avoid inbreeding, it is crucial that farmers practice ram rotation. This can be achieved by exchanging rams or buying from other farmers after every one to one-and-a-half years.

The length of the period depends on the time it takes for the sheep to attain the recommended breeding weight. In the recent past, dorper sheep has become an animal of choice for small-scale farmers, ranchers, breeders and abattoir operators.

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