Named after the county of Dorset in the mid south-west of England, the Dorset Horn is ranked one of the oldest and purest breeds in the British Isles.
When he rode over the South West of England in 1724, reporting on countryside activities, Daniel Defoe said that there were 600,000 sheep pastured within 6 miles of Dorchester.
However, they were unlike the Dorset Horn sheep we know today for they had dark noses and hooves. It was the sheep of the adjoining county Somerset, which had the pink pigmentation, the nice curl of horn and the big frames, which are Dorset Horn features today. Fortunately, by the end of the 18th Century, it was the latter characteristics which dominated in the sheep of the region and they had become famous as producers of "House Lambs” – exploiting a further characteristic which was unique to this one sheep breed in Britain, the ability to conceive at any time of year. Combined with early maturity and intense husbandry, which included housing and force feeding, the Dorset farmers were able to supply sucker lambs for the London market months before any other region.
When the surge of Southdown popularity swept over Southern England in the early 1800's, many Dorset Horn ewes were mated with that breed and flocks of pure Dorsets diminished. However, after 1840 breeders made a determined effort to both improve and promote their sheep. The Dorset Horn was restored to its place of supremacy in its own region and began to claim the attention of sheep men in Canada and United States of America.
Arrival in Australia
John Melrose of Ulooloo Station, South Australia, imported the first Dorset Horns to Australia in 1895. They soon found favour with Australian prime lamb producers. The pale pigmentation fitted well in our Merino dominated sheep industry and their early lambing, quick maturing characteristics countered the sometimes brief and uncertain flush of spring pasture growth.
George Brookman who imported 25 ewes in 1904 did much to publicise the breed. He was the first person to exhibit Dorset Horns in Australia when he showed at the Adelaide Show of 1905. Dorset Horns were introduced into Victoria by A.S. Austin in 1907 and into New South Wales by the Department of Agriculture in 1910.
However, W. J. Dawkins of Newbold, South Australia, was the outstanding figure associated with Dorset Sheep in Australia. He established his flock in 1917 after experiencing good results with Dorset cross sucker lambs. He proceeded to modify the lankiness and improve the fleshing, particularly of the hindquarters. He dominated show rings from Perth to Sydney and in 1937 was able to send the first of several consignments of stud rams back to England.
There were over 200 registered flocks by 1934. By 1960 this figure had risen to 1,400 compared with a total of 970 for all other short woolled breeds, and the Australian Poll Dorset, emulating the Dorset Horn in every aspect but the possession of horns, had been evolved. From that time on the poll progeny began to replace the Dorset Horn and the numbers of the parent breed have diminished.
Dorset Horn rams are used as sires for fast growing, early maturing prime lambs that can be marketed at an early age. The breed is traditionally mated to first cross ewes (usually Merino x Border Leicester) to produce prime lambs. Dorest Horn rams are also used to produce first cross lambs from Merino ewes. The Dorset Horn also provides a genetic resource for the Poll Dorset stud industry. Dorset rams and ewes will mate at any time of the year.
Fine downs type, dense and high yeilding. Adult ewes cut about 3kg of wool of 27 micron.
Number of registered flocks in Australia
Number of registeredewes joined in 2008
Description of a Dorset Horn Sheep
Rams: Bold, masculine appearance with strong bone and robust character. Head of great beauty with strong horns growing from the head, well apart on the crown in a straight line with each other and coming downwards or forwards in graceful curves or curls close to the face, but allowing at maturity, unimpaired vision. A distance of two centimetres from the face is desirable.
Ewes: Appearance bright with feminine characteristics. The horns much smaller and more delicate than in the ram with nice curves.
Head: Broad, full and open at the nostril. Well covered with wool from the brow to poll. Face white with no wool cover, with pink nose and lips.
Ears: Medium size, white and firm well covered with hair.
Neck: Medium length, strong and muscular on rams, moulding into the shoulders, finer towards the head and such that the sheep can hold its head in an alert position.
Chest: Well forward, full and deep.
Shoulders: Shoulder blades should be slighly lower than the spine and sloping away to a smooth setting without excessive movement when walking. There shall be no depression behind the shoulders.
Back and Loin: Broad, long and straight with well sprung ribs.
Quarters: Full, broad and deep with fleshing extending to the hocks.
Tail: Well set up in line with the back, wide, firm and fleshy.
Legs: Medium length well placed at the forequarters and free moving. Straight from the joints with strong bone, well woolled to the knees and hocks and standing well up on pasterns.
Fleece: Fine Downs type wool, dense and firm handling, free of kemp. Suggested wool count 56s - 58s with micron test 31.
Objections: Spots on skin, fleece or black markings on horns. Coarse hair on legs. Horns growing back. Twisted or splayed feet.
For further information on the Dorset Horn
Heritage Sheep Australia
11 Mona Place
South Yarra, Victoria 3141
Phone: 03 9820 4172