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The South African Dohne Merino Breed Society – 50 years young this year

The name “Dohne Merino” has been a household name in the sheep breeding community, especially in the Eastern Cape, long before the official establishment of the breed society on the 16th May 1966.  The official recognition by the Department of Agriculture’s Dr Wim Verbeek, at the Dohne Research Institute, Stutterheim, was the small beginning of the breed society with only approximately 2800 Dohne Merino ewes, divided up between about 39 members.

The first President of the society was Mr Roelie le Roux of the renowned Dirko Stud, Somerset East.  He was supported by the Vice President, Jack Blaine, Ross Dohne Stud Amabele and five council members.  The first “secretary” was Mr Noel Geach with the help of secretary Anton Blaine.  As a matter of interest Mr GH (Pinky) Watermeyer is the only surviving council member of this first council.


Previous Presidents and managers of the Dohne Merino Breed Society.

Pinky Watermeyer with Book 29Dec15
Vise President – Mr. Lionel De La Harpe and Mr. Cameron McMaster together with Mr. Pinky Watermeyer at the Old Age Home Graaff Reinet after receiving “Birth Of a Breed – The Dohne Merino Story”

This meagre start spread like wild fire, through the support of state enterprise.   Similar to the Bonsmara beef breed, the breed was founded on justifiable commercial production norms.  The project was initially driven by “Oom Koot Kotze” who was later to be honoured by the presentation of the Gold Medal of the South African Animal Production association.   The state project for this pioneering work, started already in 1939 and Barnie Barnard continued with the development work. Barnie also a departmental official, soon involved persons such as Louis Steyl (Extension Officer, Stutterheim), Mr FOW (Karrie) Karberg, Potchefstroom Agricultural College and Mr H (Stoney) Steynberg, (later Director, Karoo Region, Middelburg, EC.).

Koot his Gold Medal 138

Barney Barnard handing the South African Animal Production association’s Gold Medal to “Oom Koot” JJJ Kotze

The Dohne Merino can rightly be called the “Bonsmara” of the sheep industry on account of its historical development parallels.    The situation out of which both breeds originated, included the inadaptability of available breeding material.  As with the Bonsmara, the Department of Agriculture initiated a crossbreeding project to improve the reproduction, growth rate and general viability to ensure self sustainable woolled sheep flocks under the harsh Eastern Cape sour veld conditions.

The eastern grassveld regions of South Africa are marked by high rainfall – a paradise for foot rot, fleece rot, blowfly and extremely high internal and external parasite levels.  However, these areas are known for the production of high quality wool from the veld.  The Dohne Research Institute, with the co-operation of a few nearby pioneer breeders, did enormous work after the initial crossing to address all these problems through unwavering selection.

A few highlights in the history of the Society, include:

  • As far back as the 1970’s breeders were required to attend Performance Test courses to ensure the scientific breeding improvement of the breed.
  • The use of group breeding schemes as a method of accelerated breed improvement was initiated in 1971.  This concept was eventually expanded to a total of seven nucleus flocks country wide.
  • From the outset, registration of pedigrees was a main function of the Society. As far back as 1975 the value of the integration of pedigrees and performance testing information was debated by SA Studbook and the Department of Agriculture.    Prof Gert Erasmus, who was later given honoury membership of the Society, represented the Department of Agriculture.  As a result the Society developed and successfully implemented its own recording system during the 1980’s.
  • In June 1978 competitive shows were done away with.  This move went a long way in the promotion of scientific improvement of the breed.
  • In 1980 an office was purchased and still serves as the head office of the Society.
  • In 1982 the breed amalgamated with the Walrich Breed Society.  Key role players included Mr Cameron McMaster, Harry Prinsloo, who later became president of the NWGA and Prof Gert Erasmus.  This development widened the gene pool considerably and the likes of Allan and Leslie Higgs as well as Mr Kay Morgan and many others from “Walrich descent” leaving deep tracks in the Dohne Merino Breed Society.
  • In 1996 Mr Henri Londt set the Sire Reference Scheme in motion.  This paved the way for the development of the necessary data integrity and data structure for the complete animal model breeding value calculation two years later.
  • The export of embryos to Australia in 1998 internationalised the breed.
  • From the year 2000 a more complete data set was developed to include 100 day weights.  With the assistance of Dr Buks Olivier, the Society could implement direct and maternal breeding values in 2013.

These highlights and many more milestones in the development of the Dohne Merino are discussed in the book “Birth of a Breed – The Dohne Merino Story” by Mr Cameron McMaster.  This easy read book is a must for every smallstock breeder in South Africa and across the world.

In conclusion the Society is distinguished by stability basis of scientific orientation and planning.  The first secretary was succeeded by Mr Cameron McMaster (1970 – 2000), Mr Henri Londt (2001 – 2012) and Dr Kobus Delport, currently.  Presidents who succeeded Mr Roelie le Roux included Mr John Torr (1977 – 1991), Dr Theuns Laas (1991 – 2004), Mr Bruce Barnes-Webb (2004 – 2005, currently on the management of  Dohne Merino Australia), Mr Douw de Kock (2006 – 2009) and Mr JL (Koos) Vosloo, currently.

The Council of the Dohne Merino Breed Society serving the industry today.

Currently, the Dohne Merino Breed Society has more than one objective in order to remain at the forefront of scientific wool sheep breeding in the world.