How to become a dohne farmer
DOHNE MERINO, FARMING | June 15, 2022
The Dohne Merino has grown to be one of the most popular sheep breeds in South Africa.
But entering the industry comes with challenges that require creative solutions and years of expertise.
We follow the story of Attie du Toit from Toit Dohnes to understand how the 50 years’ wisdom from Suidplaas Dohnes helped him on his journey as a first-time Dohne farmer.
The Dohne was bred for high quality fine wool, high fertility, good milk production and rapid lamb growth rates since the 1930s. Today, this proudly South African breed is considered one of the fastest growing sheep breeds in the world.
This illustrious history is what first attracted Attie du Toit to the Dohne breed when he sought to join the industry.
“I chose Dohnes because it is a dual purpose breed with good characteristics for wool and meat production. As the saying goes, ‘Dohnes do it best’!”
But the road to success in the industry is not always easy. Making the shift from dairy cattle to sheep farming presented many obstacles, and Attie had to find effective solutions.
“When I arrived on the farm, I bought my first sheep. At that stage my father only had dairy cows. So my biggest challenge was the infrastructure of the farm, like the fences, gates and kraals all built specifically for cattle. I had to adjust. I had to systematically change the farm’s infrastructure to be able to farm with sheep fully, although we still have a milking parlour.”
Attie also bought Dohne ewes from Suidplaas. He quickly realised the value of community and shared wisdom, which also played a big role in his journey.
With the help of Suidplaas owner, Wynand du Toit, Attie’s know-how quickly improved.
“Wynand owns the biggest and one of the most successful Dohne studs in South Africa, and probably the world. I immediately started going to his auctions and viewings to familiarise myself with the good characteristics of the breed. The young stud ewes I bought from Wynand are now improving my own stud’s genetics. They lambed in March and did very well. Wynand is always willing to help and share advice.”
Attie’s top advice to prospective Dohne farmers:
Be willing to learn
“Be willing to learn from successful stud farmers. I am very lucky to have so many good studs around me. I learned a lot from my neighbours and from other studs, like Wynand from Suidplaas Dohnes, Boeta from Weska Dohnes and Dirk from Staatmaker Merino. My wool and sheep marketers also helped me.”
Brush up on your Dohne knowledge
“In the beginning, my basic knowledge of sheep was another challenge. I attended various courses to improve this. Sign up for the Dohne merino course, presented by Kobus Delport – he is a legend in the industry.”
According to Wynand, Suidplaas’s success has come down to their focus on genetics for profit. Fifty years ago, Wynand’s father Jan first implemented their strict breeding and selection criteria. Wynand says, “We’ve kept this in place for the past five decades. That’s how we’ve improved our stud – and how we believe other studs can do the same.”
Images: Toit Dohnes