Based on an analysis of the 2003 financial results of clients of the AnkerAgric Farm Consultancy

This data was accumulated in the normal course of the service delivered by AnkerAgric Farm Consultants. The data is used to identify strengths and weaknesses within each participating enterprise with a view to optimising production systems and flock management to achieve maximum profitability per hectare.

The Bredasdorp region is a mixed farming region with cropping of winter cereals combined with woolled sheep on pasture and stubbles. Rain falls mostly in the winter months and varies from 300 to 400mm per annum. The clients involved are amongst the most successful and experienced farmers in the region. For this reason the data is unrepresentative of the farming community as a whole and cannot be used to draw firm conclusions regarding the relative profitability of the two major sheep breeds in all environments. It does however illustrate principles that can be used to increase the profitability of sheep production in the region.

Traditionally the conventional Merino has been the most important sheep breed, with wool the most important product. The nutritional level and climate is very suitable for Merinos and high levels of production are achieved. In the last 20 years the price of wool has decreased and that of sheep meat has increased dramatically, to the extent that currently the two products have the same value per kg. Prime lamb production has become more important than wool as component of flock income and Merino breeders have been successful in improving both the reproductive rate and growth rate of their sheep to take advantage of the ever increasing meat price.

The changing price trends of wool and meat have also resulted in an increasing shift to the dual-purpose Dohne which was developed to produce fine wool and prime lambs in the harsh environments of the Eastern Cape sour grassland, a region of high summer rainfall and low nutrition where conventional Merinos were poorly adapted. The Dohne was found to be very suitable in the Bredasdorp region and for reasons that are not always related to productivity, the majority of commercial flocks have switched to Dohnes.

The shift to Dohnes is illustrated by the following: In 1988 Merinos constituted 80% of the commercial sheep flocks in the Bredasdorp region and there were 15 Merino Studs and 2 Dohne studs. Currently 70% of commercial breeders run Dohnes and there are 5 Merino studs and 4 Dohne studs (A. Fourie, personal communication).

Table 1. illustrates the comparative productivity based on the 2003 results of the Merino and Dohne flocks of clients of AnkerAgric Consultants. Cropping of winter cereals is the most important part of the participating enterprises, with sheep production an important secondary activity and some participants also run cattle and ostriches. The averages of the 10 Merino flocks are compared with the 9 Dohne flocks and results of the flock with the highest profitability (Boontjieskraal Farms) is provided as a benchmark to illustrate the potential that is possible.

Table 2. sets out the Flock Composition and Production Norms

Table 1. Bredasdorp Sheep Enterprises 2003

19 Participants 10 Merino and 9 Dohne
  Average of all flocks  
Economics Merino Dohne Top Dohne Flock
Breeding ewes 1741 2933 5190
Small Stock Units (SSU) 3372 5865 10685
Hectares cropped 1520 2263 2272
Hectares Pasture 784 1043 1227
Sheep stocked/hectare 4.35 5.42 8.71
All livestock in SSU/ha. 5.38 6.60 8.71
Ewes /ha. Pasture 2.24 2.70 4.23
Wool income/ewe 265 178 148
Meat Income/ewe 392 403 509
Ratio: Wool/Meat Income 40/60 30/70 22/78
Capital change 40 76 -12
Gross income per ewe 698 658 646
Direct Costs 149 142 173
Includes feed, veterinary, shearing and      
marketing costs, but not labour and other overheads      
Gross Margin/Ewe 548 515 472
Gross Margin/Hectare pasture 1227 1390 1998
Gross Margin all livestock/Hectare pasture 1522 1673 1998

Total livestock converted to Sheep Units

Table 2.

Flock Statistics Average of all flocks
  Merino Dohne Top Dohne Flock
Flock Composition (SSU)     (Booontjieskraal)
Rams 4.59% 2.99% 2.28%
Ewes 51.93% 49.87% 48.57%
Young ewes 8.03% 11.94% 13.22%
Lambs 33.08% 32.33% 35.56%
Production Norms      
Per Ewe 9.5 7.4 6.4
Per Ha. Pasture 21.4 19.7 27.0
Price/Kg 28.06 24.21 23.27
Weaning % 1.18* 1.21 1.36
Head marketed per Hectare Pasture 2.49 3.06 4.86
Price / Head 395 421 433

*Five of the 10 Merino flocks are on an 8-months lambing cycle which inflates the average


The environment in which the data was collected is excellent for sheep, favouring Merinos which are adapted to a high quality diet. This enables Merinos to achieve high reproductive rates and still grow heavy fleeces, giving them higher per capita returns. In the current economic climate the number of lambs produced and sold is the most important factor that influences flock profitability. This is influenced primarily by the stocking density of ewes which wean a high percentage of lambs. While there are no significant differences in reproductive rates of Merinos and Dohnes in these flocks, it is the number of ewes stocked per hectare that has the major impact on profitability.

The Dohne was developed for high reproduction and growth rate in a nutritionally stressful environment. The Dohne advantage in the Bredasdorp environment is that, contrary to current scientific thinking, it can be stocked at considerably higher densities (nutritional stress) without affecting reproductive performance and growth rate. This is a classic example of environment/genotype interaction whereby the advantage of higher stocking density (stress) is exploited with the specialised genotype of the Dohne which is adapted to a lower nutritional level (hardiness) Higher stocking densities translate into substantially higher incomes per hectare. On average Dohne flocks return R163 higher Gross Margins per hectare. On 1000 hectares this totals R163 000 per annum more!

It is also interesting to note that the higher the ratio of meat to wool income in Table 1., the higher is the gross margin per hectare. In 2003 wool prices were considerably higher than they are in 2005. The lower wool prices and higher meat prices that prevail today will enhance the Dohne advantage.

In an attempt to compensate for the lower stocking densities at which Merinos could be run, five of the Merino enterprises moved to accelerated lambing seasons - mating and lambing their ewes every 8 months. The effect of this is to inflate the annual weaning percentage per ewe in Table1. (118%). However, this has had a negative effect on Gross Margin per hectare because the higher number of lambs being reared has reduced the number of ewes that can be carried on the property, cancelling out the advantage of the 8 months lambing cycle. Even with Dohnes, which are imminently suited to an accelerated lambing programme, an annual lambing cycle is more profitable than and 8-months cycle (A. Fourie, personal communication).

A further advantage of Dohnes which facilitates higher stocking rates, particularly of ewes per hectare, is the rapid growth and early marketability of lambs - most of which leave the property by 150 days of age. While Merino lambs may eventually achieve an equivalent slaughter value, they take much longer to do so, which limits stocking capacity of ewes.

There are a number of additional advantages of Dohnes that are difficult to quantify but that have had a significant influence on its increased popularity. These are primarily linked to its easy-care features, hardiness and fitness. Ease of lambing, maternal ability and excellent lamb survival reduce the amount of shepherding required at lambing. Labour costs are not factored into the data in Table 1. and had they been included, the relative net profitability of Dohnes would have been higher. Survival in cold, wet weather after shearing is very good. Plain bodies and a high degree of resistance to blowfly strike are very desirable features. It is not necessary to mules Dohnes. Cast for age ewes are always in top condition and realise top prices with minimum finishing.

At certain times of the year busy crop farmers have little time to devote to their sheep flocks and prefer hardy Dohnes that can fend for themselves. Most sheep enterprises are managed at a much lower level than the 19 participants under discussion. Lower levels of nutrition and management will favour the Dohne. In every instance where there has been a switch from Merinos to Dohnes in this region, it has been characterised by a significant increase in the profitability of the flock over a short period of time. The relative average prices of the rams sold on the annual Bredasdorp ram sale in July 2005 reflects the opinions and experience of the commercial sheep farmers in the region (Table 3.)

Table 3. Bredasdorp Ram Sale, 28 July 2005

Breed Rams offered Rams sold Average Price Top Price
Merinos 60 53 R 3,603 R 9,000
Dohnes 69 69 R 5,296 R 11,500
Samms 15 14 R 2,385 R 2,700

Cameron McMaster, Sheep and Wool Consultant, Napier
Andre Fourie, AnkerAgric Consultants, Bredasdorp