Roger and Ladonna Jones Add South African Sheep to Existing Poultry Operation
Roger and Ladonna Jones of Franklin County live on a small farm about 14 miles west of Russellville, just off of Highway 24 West. For 22 years, Roger worked for St. Gobain in Russellville making a fiberglass component used in the manufacture of roofing shingles. In 2002, the plant was sold and Roger was suddenly out of a job. He and Ladonna had talked about building laying houses and this seemed like a good time to investigate this possibility. They visited area producers who had laying houses and met with Marshall Durbin Poultry Company, based in Delmar, agreeing to build two laying houses with each house to accommodate around 6,000 laying hens and 500 roosters to produce eggs for the company hatchery. Construction of the houses began and Roger was called back to work at St. Gobain as plant operations manager. Upon completion of the buildings, Roger left the plant and they began egg production which is now in its eighth year.
While raising their two children, Cory and Tamira, Roger had looked for enterprises to maximize the use of the land they had and had run a few head of cattle at times. Being on the farm all the time lent time to explore other possibilities to have a supplemental farm income and utilize the grass grown there. Jones thought sheep might fit the bill as a viable secondary enterprise. He began to research sheep breeds and discovered the hair breeds had a lot of possibilities. The breed he settled on was Dorpers, beginning with some full-bloods and purebreds in his herd.
Full-blood means the genetic background can be traced only to sheep imported from South Africa, the country of origin for Dorpers. Purebred means the sheep is upgraded from American stock and is at least 93 percent or 15/16ths Dorper genetics. Upgrading was allowed in order to increase the numbers of Dorper sheep in the United States after South Africa experienced an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease which made importation impossible. The sheep are shown together in the showring with no preference for either designation according to the American Dorper Sheep Breeders Registry. Roger’s herd consists of 10 full-blood and 15 purebred Dorper ewes.
Roger, why did you decide to produce Dorpers?
"Dorpers are a meat breed, they don’t have to be sheared (their covering is shed each summer) and require minimal de-worming. The lambs grow well and efficiently produce meat which is succulent and fine-textured without the "mutton taste" of some breeds. The reason they require minimal de-worming is they tolerate a parasite burden, which some breeds cannot. Dorper rams cross well on other breeds and are in demand for this reason," Roger explained.
Jones’ Dorpers are white with black heads, but they can also be completely white. While all traits are the same but color, the two are considered separate breeds.
The Dorper bred to white ewes will yield some spotted offspring, but a White Dorper bred to white ewes will result in white offspring.
At what age can ewe lambs be bred, what is a typical percent lamb crop and what time of the year can you breed them?
"Ewe lambs may cycle at six to eight months, but better conception rates can be achieved by waiting until they are nine to 12 months-of-age. This later breeding will also result in the ewes growing out better. A typical lamb crop will be 150 percent depending on genetics and nutrition. Improving nutrition will result in lambing rates being around 180 percent. Dorper ewes will breed at any time during the year with nutritional level playing a major role in conception rates. Three lamb crops every two years is a common practice," Roger said.
His plan includes producing purebred Dorper rams for the growing commercial market and later to sell a few ewes to seed-stock producers, as well as hitting the showring with granddaughter Whitney doing the handling. Crossing Dorper rams on other breed ewes improves the meat qualities, carcass size and growth rate of lambs produced. Preliminary university trials also indicate improvement in feed efficiency, growth rate and meat quality when crossed on many commercial wool breeds.
Even though management practices like de-worming are reduced with Dorpers, efficient working facilities are still needed. Roger has adapted his cattle-working equipment to facilitate handling sheep. A tilt table saves a lot of back strain when it comes to trimming feet, so, with plans from LSU, he built a very efficient tilt table that also can be used to catch sheep for de-worming. A set of scales is a valuable tool in most livestock endeavors, so Roger adapted a set of meat scales to weigh sheep. He weighs his ewes and lambs periodically to monitor maintenance weight on the ewes and growth rate of the lambs. The scales are also important when it is time to de-worm, with them he knows exactly what his animals weigh and does not over or under-medicate.
The Joneses have found a workable addition to their laying operation with the Dorpers and feel they can add more to their bottom line with them than with other livestock.
They keep Whitney, who is now five, while her parents work and she naturally helps with chores on the farm. A farm is a great place for a child to be when growing up because of the learning experiences and chores that instill responsibility. Whitney is already an accomplished egg packager with her grandparent’s supervision and I am sure she will be an accomplished sheep handler when she is old enough for her and Grandpa to venture into the sheep show arena.
Roger relies on Franklin County Co-op for parts to keep their poultry houses in tip-top shape and also animal health and nutrition products for their sheep operation. Your local Quality Co-op is always ready to assist you with any questions you may have as well as stocking the things you need for your farm, home, garden and livestock. If we don’t have what you are looking for, ordering the product for you is usually not a problem. We want to earn your business and will strive to keep it. Check us out at alafarm.com for store locations, our vendors, feed tags and other information.
Don Linker is an outside salesman for AFC.