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Dohne Merino Breed Society – 50 Years of existence to be celebrated in 2016!

Photo: Cameron McMaster at the time when the history of the Dohne Merino Breed unfolded

By now it is a well-known fact that the South African Dohne Merino Breed Society celebrates its 50th anniversary next year. The Global Dohne Merino conference to be held in Melbourne Australia, 22-23 July 2016, forms a large part of 2016’s program, has also been very well advertised on our website – http// What is probably less known, is that a fantastic book – “Birth of a Breed – The Dohne Merino Story” was written by Mr. Cameron McMaster and its official launch will be the climax of the Dohne Merino celebration! It is planned that the launch will take place at the envisaged Small Stock School at Gariep dam.  This event will take place from 1 June 2016 to 3 June 2016. The International school is a first for South Africa and will be the climax of our 50th celebration of the existence of the Dohne Merino Breed society. Cameron will attend the Conference Dinner personally to formally introduce the book to all small stock farmers.

“Sheep in my Blood” there are still a few copies available – Contact Cameron McMaster.

It is with pride that Dohne Merino also announces that Cameron McMaster was presented with a Life Membership for services to the Australian Dohne Merino Breed Association. This acknowledgement for Cameron’s continued development of his beloved breed on an international basis, does justice to his formidable contribution to the international small stock industry. Cameron is an accomplished writer who already successfully authored the book “Sheep in my Blood”. This latest book on the History of the Dohne Merino is not only informative but makes for easy reading. Its compilation also makes reference to specific sagas very easy.

Some of the interesting facts on international highlights are set out in the following paragraphs to whet the appetites of one and all:

According to Cameron South African Dohne Merinos are globally, highly valued on account of the following sought after attributes:

Especially in the case of Australian sheep producers, the increase in the value of meat has been a major driver in introducing Dohne Merinos. However, the development of “low breech wrinkle” sheep (due to concerns regarding mulesing) and polledness (another easy care trait) has contributed to the expansion of the Dohne Merino in Australia.

The economic climate in most South American sheep producing countries prescribes a necessity for sheep capable of weaning weights of 30⁺ kg, and producing wool under 23 microns. The Dohne Merino is the only breed that meets these criteria.

Cameron states that in the long term, development and selection of the Dohne Merino breed in South Africa to pursue commercially justifiable objectives, has finally earned wide spread international recognition.

The Australian Saga:

Dohne Merino genetic material was exported to Australia for the first time in circa 1998 by means of frozen embryos. Thereafter regular exports of Dohne Merinos took place to establish a number of joint ventures between South African Dohne Merino Stud Breeders and Australian breeders.

Donor animals for the first embryo exports to Australia in 1998

The breed proved to be so popular that the inaugural meeting of the Australian Dohne Breeders’ Association Limited was held at Katanning in Western Australia in October 2000. The six breeders on the steering committee became the first ADBA Councillors. Alex Leach was appointed as first president and Allan Casey as the Association’s technical advisor. Shortly thereafter, the first national Dohne sale was held at Roseville Park in October 2001. The excellent result of 63 rams sold for an average of $4,950, serves as proof of the Dohne Merino gaining popularity in leaps and bounds. Currently the highest priced ram is UD080270 bred by Uardry, Hay NSW and sold to Calga, Coonamble NSW for A$23,000.

Formal committees to manage and coordinate Dohne Merino breeding in all regions were established in quick succession under South African guidance. Mr Cameron McMaster and the late Henri Londt played a major role regarding all technical aspects (recording and selection procedures) as well as training of advisors. Mr Cameron McMaster remarks “…Over a wide range of Merino types, the first cross Dohne progeny exhibited a remarkable trueness to the Dohne type, growing extremely rapidly and being plain-bodied with excellent conformation, muscle and carcass quality. The potential for subsequent generations was even better. Even F1 prime lambs fully met the requirements of the Australian Export Lamb market”.

The Australian Dohne Merino Society, currently consists of 81 full members, 20 commercial members as well as 17 approved classers. According to an AWI and MLA survey (June 2014) the Dohne Merino Breed has had an influence on approximately 20% of Australian breeding ewes. The rate of genetic gain (registered animals) is also very high. Rams available in 2014 are 30 index points commercially more productive, than the base population.

South Africa incurred an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in the early 2000s, which has not been addressed to the satisfaction of the World Organisation of Animal Health. This meant that Dohne Merino exports by South African breeders ceased except for a short time frame during 2007. Australia made full use of the opportunity to export their newly acquired and sought after breed world-wide to other countries including New Zealand and South America.

Dohne Merinos in South America

Dohne X Corriedale ewe hoggets on Est. Santa Barbara, Tierra del Fuego

South American countries to which Dohne Merinos were introduced from Australia, include Uruguay, Chile, Peru and Argentina.

One of the most significant developments included Macquarie Dohne genetics’ export to INIA (National Agricultural Research Institute) in 2006. It formed the foundation of Dohne Corriedale crosses on a trial basis in Uruguay. Results of the trial indicate a 10% increase in growth rates, 15% decrease in micron and 10% reduction in wool cut in F1 animals.

Additional embryos from studs including Kardinia, Macquarie, Mt Alma, Uardry and Roseville Park were subsequently exported.

The increasing number of breeders led to the formation of the Uruguayan Dohne breeders, an Association of Merino Dohne Breeders in 2013.   South African leadership was again demonstrated when Mr Cameron McMaster was invited to attend this historical event. His co-operation with the very experienced scientist and consultant, Roberto Cardellino (Delta Animal Production), proved invaluable in terms of on-the-ground guidance and the continuity needed to ensure effective implementation of the Dohne breeding system.

Chile imported Dohne genetics as early as 2002. Macquarie Dohnes (Australia) exported 100 embryos to Hugo Vera in Punta Arena. These progeny were compared with imported Polled Merinos and local Corriedales. Dohne lambs outstripped the growth rates of the Corriedale and Polled Merino by 10% and 20% respectively.

The Falkland Islands and Elsewhere

From 2003 a number of Falkland Island farmers began importing Dohne embryos from Australia. The results were so positive that breeders like Ben Berntsen and Andrez Short embarked on ambitious programmes to multiply pure-bred Dohnes with further embryo imports and flushing of their own pure-bred ewes. Barry Armstrong of the Eastern Dohne Central Nucleus addressed their annual “Farmers Week” in July 2006 to provide leadership regarding the running of a co-operative group breeding scheme.   Henri Londt also provided vital technical advice on the effective use of the Dohne Merino breed improvement system. Recently renewed interest in South African genetics led to the re-planning of possible embryo imports from South Africa.

Dohne Rams on the Falkland Islands (embryos imported from the Charfontein stud, South Africa in 2007). (photo Ben Bernsten)

Russia imported a number of live Dohne rams from two registered Australian Dohne studs (Roseville Park and Uardry) in 2007. The Director General of the Russian National Association of Sheep Breeders, Mikhail Egorov, mentioned that the ongoing Russian objective for importing Dohne rams, was to improve meat characteristics of local Merinos. Once again, Cameron Russian Meat Merinos – progeny of imported Australian Dohne rams

Russian Meat Merinos – progeny of imported Australian Dohne rams

McMaster provided them with advice and information on Dohne breed standards and selection systems.

In conclusion it is a tragedy that South African breeders and the country as a whole, only reap the benefits of the Dohne Merino’s success in an indirect manner.   We can only call on our veterinarian authorities to help in materialising the words of Cameron McMaster … “Make your Dohnes work for you – you should not have to work for them!

Initially only 1000 copies of “Birth of a Breed – The Dohne Merino Story” will be printed. To obtain your copy, contact the Dohne Merino Breed Society on availability and pricing.