Dorset Down

Dorset Down

The Dorset Down sheep breed is a sheep (Ovis aries Linnaeus, 1758) originally from the County of Dorset, England, with a main aptitude for meat production.

Systematics –
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
Eukaryota Domain,
Kingdom Animalia,
Phylum Chordata,
Mammalia class,
Order Artiodactyla,
Suborder Ruminantia,
Bovidae family,
Caprinae subfamily,
Genus Ovis,
Species O. aries,
Dorset Down breed.

Geographic and Area Distribution –
The Dorset Down is a very old English breed of sheep originating in the County of Dorset. This breed has been imported to many countries, including Brazil, Argentina, Australia, and New Zealand.
It is also bred in Italy for the first generation crossing with different Italian breeds as it gives good results in particular as regards the yields at slaughter.

Origins and History –
The Dorset Down sheep breed originated in England around 1800 by mating Southdown rams with large Hampshire Down, Berkshire and Wiltshire sheep.
In the past it was a very well bred and popular breed from the UK. Today it is listed as a minority breed by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust and although it has been exported to North and South America, New Zealand and Australia, it remains quite rare in those countries as well.
In the 1980s, 43% of Britain’s sheep population was mated to a ‘Down’ breed of ram, but the introduction of well-publicized foreign breeds resulted in a reduction in demand in Dorset Down, along with many traditional breeds. and therefore of the number of flocks.
However, the growing market demand for “healthy food” and the recent reform of the CAP have meant that Dorset Down has made a comeback as the ideal solution for the production of prime quality lamb. Its suitability for extensive and organic farming systems has also favored the resumption of breeding of this breed.

Morphology –
The Dorset Down is a medium-sized sheep.
It has a hornless head.
The fleece is white in color and covers the whole body, except the face and the limbs under the knees and hocks; it has a fine, dense texture, and the skin is a delicate bright pink. The parts not covered by fleece are brown in color.
The average weight of this breed is 70 – 80 kg for males and 50 – 55 kg for females.

Productive attitude –
The Dorset Downs is a robust sheep with an aptitude for meat production but which also produces generally high quality wool.
In general it is an excellent meat producer sheep (good conformation, high earliness, good prolificacy and nursing capacity of the mothers, excellent growth and high yields at the slaughter of calves).
The breed produces in fact early maturing lambs and as such is an ideal breed for breeding.
Sheep are mated most months of the year, making the breed ideal for the Christmas lamb market or early spring when prices are at seasonal highs. The conformation of the carcass is good with fine bone and shoulder, being well fleshed with tender meat with a delicate flavor.
Dorset Down is renowned not only for the production of early maturing lambs but also for its ability to adapt to organic farming systems and other extensive systems. It is also a very important breed as breeders for the first generation crossing and therefore for the commercial yield of the meat.
A Dorset Down ram can indeed be safely used on any breed of sheep, and many farmers have been struck by the much improved conformation of their lambs from a cross with a Dorset Down.
Lambs are very rustic at birth, vigorous and ready to nurse.
Single lambs can carry up to 18 kg gross carcass weight within 10-12 weeks, twin lambs the same weight within 12-14 weeks, while a good lamb gains up to 0.45 kg live weight per day.
It has been shown that a properly managed commercial herd using a Dorset Down ram can release all lambs within 16 weeks of giving birth.
The Dorset Down breed produces a lamb with fine bones and shoulders, good fleece with a great leg and is ideal for the home or export trade. The loin is perfectly covered with meat and the shoulder is particularly good in flavor.
The wool is short and fine in texture on mature sheep, while the denser wool of lambs resists bad weather. The weights of the fleece vary up to 2,177 kg washed and up to 2,450 kg greased. The British Wool Marketing Board ranks Dorset Down wool as one of the highest quality in the country; considerable quantities of this wool are marketed in hosiery.

Guido Bissanti

Sources-
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– Daniele Bigi, Alessio Zanon, 2010. Atlas of native breeds. Cattle, horses, sheep and goats, pigs reared in Italy, Edagricole-New Business Media, Bologna.
Photo source:
https://www.bendigoadvertiser.com.au/story/4775275/family-legacy-grows/



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