Apparel Wool, Meat for a Feast

Dohne breed is the complete package

Farm Weekly – 2 Sept 2020

“The whole aim was to venture more down the meat track, while still maintaining the wool.”

THE Dohne breed fitted the bill when brothers David and Peter Smith wanted to increase the performance of their farm’s sheep program 16 years ago and the breed is still ticking all the boxes.

The brothers farm 4000 hectares in north east Carnamah where they have a 70:30 mixed farming enterprise favouring cropping.


Brothers Peter (left) and David Smith, Carnamah, switched to breeding Dohne sheep 16 years ago and have not looked back.






They also produced pigs for 40 years but moved away from them early this year, so their full focus other than cropping is their Dohne sheep breeding program.

Originally Merino breeders, the Smiths wanted to increase the profitability of their sheep and turned to the Dohne breed to achieve their aims.

“We started breeding Dohnes in 2004-2005, we changed over from Australian Merino Society,” David Smith said.

“The main reason we changed was because we wanted to get more into the meat side of things, we already had the wool with our AMS bloodlines.

“We wanted to sell more prime lambs, we used to sell shipper wethers.

“The whole aim was to venture more down the meat track, while still maintaining the wool.”

From the initial beginnings the Smiths now have an all Dohne fully self-replacing ewe flock and buy in their terminal sires.

Mr Smith said they were tough sheep and performed well with less input than the Merinos they used to breed.

“We like the Dohnes because they are a hardy sheep,” Mr Smith said.

“They take a lot less to feed than the regular Merinos we used to run, they eat anything.

“Our flock’s main ewe mob gets transferred after harvest and when we walk them 10 kilometres down the road to the next farm, they eat trees and grass and whatever grows on the side of the road – they are a hardy type of sheep.”

When they made the switch to Dohnes, the Smiths only focussed on the meat traits as they already had their wool type cemented in their flock.

Mr Smith said for this reason they pinpointed the genetic traits for eye muscle and body weight to increase the size of the sheep they were breeding and this worked.

“Now we are looking even more closely at the ASBVs for different traits,” he said.

“We are also looking at the rankings for the different traits and fine-tuning our breeding program this way.”

They have run as many as 1200 breeding ewes in the past, with numbers falling to about 800 in tougher seasons, but the Smiths have settled on their ideal core number of 900.

Knowing what works for their enterprise is what has made their sheep program such a success.

“We do not preg test our ewes and they are all run as one mob, but split into two mobs for lambing,” Mr Smith said.

“This year our average lambing percentage was 112 per cent.”

Due to the way their sheep are placed on the land and the lack of multiple yarding facilities, the Smiths allow for a long joining period.

Rams are put in between Christmas and New Year’s Eve and then stay with the ewes until the flock is brought in and moved in April, but the easy care nature of the Dohne makes this possible.

“Lambing starts in late May/early June,” Mr Smith said.

“Even though the rams are in for a while, lambing is still pretty even and tight.

“We have just finished marking this week.”

Mr Smith said the distance between their farms is also an advantageous factor affecting the flock.

“We try to mate on lupin stubble, so the sheep are in good condition,” he said.

“And we find walking the flock between the farms, seems to get the ewes cycling.”

Mr Smith said they had definitely achieved what they had set out to with their move into Dohnes and the only complaint was that maybe their ewes actually performed too well.

“We have a bigger sheep now,” he said.

“We breed a robust, big ewe, with good wool weights.

“The wool may be a little bit shorter and there may be a little less than a purebred Merino, but it is still good quality.

“The only complaint would be that the ewes are a little too fertile, they have a very high percentage of twins.”

The Smiths look after the ewes when they are lambing, utilising hay and lick feeders, depending on the seasonal requirements.

“If it rains they will go onto pastures,” Mr Smith said.

Their main flock shearing takes place at the beginning of August, with the lambs shorn at the end of October.

“Our average micron is 19 to 19.5,” Mr Smith said.

“The sheep have an average wool cut of 5 kilograms per head.”

The meat side of their business has been streamlined, allowing for minimal input.

“We do not put our sheep into lot feeders,” Mr Smith said.

“When they are weaned, they go straight onto pastures, we always sow good pasture and sow barley or oats in so there is plenty of green feed.

“There is a mix of clover, marguerite and seradella in there too.”

He said sheep were moved onto the lupin stubble over the summer and depending on the season, in the past few weeks, they might go onto a lupin/oat mixture to top them up a little bit.

The Smiths sell direct to processors, being V&V Walsh and Fletchers International.

“Lambs go from the start of November and the last are sold in February,” Mr Smith said.

“Two thirds of the lamb flock go as prime lambs.

“We cull and put tags in any cull ewes at marking time and they automatically go as prime lamb.”

The Smith’s future plans are to continue their sheep program the way they have been, with a little room for an increase in numbers, if the season looks good.

“We do have room to increase the numbers slightly,” Mr Smith said.

“But the 900 ewes we run, suits our cropping program and we are getting the results we want, so we are happy.”

The Smiths find the Dohne is a very hardy breed that provides the best option to target both the wool and meat markets.

Practical Guide
Dohne Database