Lambing season has started and ANRD have delivered their first Dorper crosses, with 35 lambs being delivered at Botleys.
The pedigree flock of Dorpers originally arrived on island in April 2011, with 2 rams and 4 ewes. A further 7 rams and 4 ewes arrived in October 2011, at a cost of £8,400. Two new paddocks were erected at Scotland to house the flocks and the 2 genders are separated during non breeding periods.
The initiative was set in motion by Joe Hollins, Senior Veterinary Officer. "There's a two pronged approach here, I didn't just bring ewes," said Hollins, "I brought in rams as well as pedigree Dorper ewes. I wanted to create a double strategy, so that it's a stronger strategy. I wanted to breed pure bred Dorpers, as a nucleus flock and get those numbers expanded." Hollins stated that it was not the intention of Government to farm, "and we don't intend to. We're just trying to get this started." He continues, "Eventually, these animals will be sold out into the public at a very reasonable rate just to get them out there."
The Dorper is a very different breed to what is currently on island. "The breeds that are here are lovely breeds, but they are very British and we might be an Overseas Territory but we're certainly not Britain," said Hollins. "They do quite well carcass and meat wise, but the majority of them are dual purpose; they produce wool as well as meat." The existing breeds are Swaledales, Cheviots and Romney Marshes which Hollins describes having a "thick woollen fleece" unlike the Dorpers that are a hair breed.
So why are woollen breeds an issue for the island? "What the island needs and wants is meat; what the island doesn't need is the wool. It's shorn off annually and thrown away," said Hollins. However, he reveals a welfare issue that hinders farming here. "We have an aging farming community and it's hard work shearing. Not everyone gets around to it and they need to. Not to shear sheep is a welfare issue," emphasised Hollins. "I have a problem with that here; it's prosecutable in many countries (including Britain and the Falklands). You should, once a year, shear woolly sheep." Hollins made a point of highlighting this and continued, "what we've imported is a hair breed and they don't need to be shorn once a year."
I asked about the implication of not shearing the sheep, the answer was fly related. "A big problem here, is that sheep get fly struck," said Hollins. "We have a significant percentage of sheep losing their lives because they get fly struck as they have thick woolly fleeces. The fleece gets wet, and then the weather becomes warm, steaming up the fleece. Then the blow fly lays its eggs hatching maggots." The ramifications go wider. "Not only is it killing sheep, but surviving sheep are damaged, they often lose weight or can't sustain a lamb or pregnancy," said Hollins. "It also means a lot of manpower, you have to constantly check the sheep, have a look at the infected area and cut it away. There's also a cost issue with using insecticides."
Having spoken sometime about the problem that sheep have on the island I was eager to find out how the Dorper would improve the situation. "The Dorper is a hair breed, it's self shearing, in other words it sheds its coat naturally. It's a mutton breed, so a bigger breed that breeds all year round, expanding the possibility for lambing season. It can be bred 3 times in 2 years instead of twice. Suddenly you see this adding up to more lambs and more meat on the plate and more breeding sheep to put around the island."
The current focus is on increasing the stock of the Dorpers. "We are breeding them up. So far, we have 4 pure bred lambs with a further 4 ewes that are pregnant," said Hollins. "We will wean 3 of those lambs in a month's time and get another 3 ewes pregnant. We will breed them 3 times in 2 years to accumulate numbers quickly. Because we brought down 7 family lines of ram and 6 lines of ewes, it means we can keep blending the genetics to avoid inbreeding."
Gary Stevens is a well known local farmer, who has been farming the lands of Botleys for many years and is an ANRD syndicate. Although Stevens farms the land at Botleys, he rents the land from ANRD. "This is their land," says Stevens. "There's a small fee for the land and I think it goes into the 'Animal Husbandry Fund'." Within his flock he showed me examples of the Dorper crosses which share 50% of the pure bred gene. Stevens is hopeful for the new sheep and told me, "In the past, the breeds we have, will have just 1 or 2 lambs. This new Dorper breed, after it becomes established, can increase our stock and have much more. Hopefully, in the future we could have good lamb to sell." Steven's informed me that previously, farmers were only able to have a flock of 10. "In the past we had a lot of drought periods. There was limited feed, but now we have too much feed. We should be able to increase our flock numbers and make it more profitable." This now makes raising a flock of 20 possible.
There are already advantages becoming apparent. "The Dorper breed feeds on almost anything," said Stevens. "They could help to keep the evasive furze down, which would help us clear our land. They are easier to look after because they don't grow these big fleeces and they shed their fleece. All this adds up to the farmer increasing his flock because he won't have too many to shear. If we do need to shear them they don't have a big fleece." Steven's annual shearing period is October as the local climate becomes warmer.
Another issue facing the population of sheep is dog attacks. "Dogs have cleared us out for the last 2 years," said Stevens. "We hope that people will start to listen to us and control their dogs. Hopefully, dogs won't come out and we can increase our flocks." I asked if there had been any recent attacks, "Nigel George at the Church Yard had 2 attacked and killed. It was the only 2 sheep he had so the problem is serious." The fees for dog attacks on sheep can exceed £500 and could even result in the death of the dog. Farmers are within their right to protect their livestock.
Hollins is upset by these attacks, "It's a criminal waste actually. I've just asked people – begged people – to be responsible with their pet ownership," said Hollins. "Dogs should not be turned out and allowed to wander. The standard island dog is a Collie dog and it is instinctive for them to round up sheep, but an untrained Collie will attack. The lamb is an easy prey. It's holding back the island and costing money."