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ARTICLES >> Livestock Articles

Damara is Delicious

Posted by Bestprac on Jun 07 2010

By Lloyd Dunlop
Dudley fell in love with the taste of Damara. “I first tasted Damara meat while working in South Africa a decade ago.

 



One of the interesting twists of cleanskin sheep is the flock of 60,000 Damaras owned by Queenslander Dudley Leitch at Warwick. Not only is it one of the biggest cleanskin flocks in Australia but it is found in one of the harshest climates, in the high rainfall traprock extension into Queensland, of the New England Tablelands.

 

 
Dudley fell in love with the taste of Damara. “I first tasted Damara meat while working in South Africa a decade ago. From that time on, I knew that the South African native sheep was for me, particularly tasting meat from almost desert environment, as soft as grain fed lamb crossbred lamb without the sometimes offensive smell, particularly of crossbreds having some merino blood.

Noting the harsh environment that produced tender meat from rank grass and shrubs, I decided to capture as many Damara cross ewes as possible. This became easier when the early promoters of the breed switched their recommendation to Dorper, downgrading the value of Damaras.

Dudley, a gold explorer and geologist, made the switch to pastoralist, and then bought 10 properties around Gore, 64km west of Warwick. He spends most of his time between the eastern downs, Beaudesert and Brisbane. “From 2000 to 2005, I had only leased country near Mitchell and Texas. Being "hands on" and still having work to do in Brisbane and Beaudesert, I needed sheep country within a 3 hr drive of Brisbane. The traprock is so similar, both geologically and vegetation-wise to the Kimberley area of South Africa, where Damaras thrive, the choice was obvious.

However, Dudley’s choice was tested with the failure of the breed to gain acceptance among meat processors. “I met a number of people at Maclagan near Dalby in 2006 who struggled to get market acceptance of Damaras. This meeting taught me the trend to Dorper was increasing and there was no use whinging about my choice but just continue my faith in the breed.

As others faith dwindled we were able to purchase many hundreds of rams and thousands of ewes including almost complete studs of King Damara in NSW, Silver springs in WA, Cuppazon in Qld, as well as many rams from Sherana (Qld) and Hall Damara (WA).

The flock grew into a number of levels of purity from top stud animals to commercial merino cross Damaras from western Qld. Our objectives have been achieved as we have culled our "woollies" and older ewes to be left with F3 to fullblood ewes. The real difference is the improvement in intelligence and temperament, lack of need for treatment for fly and lice and reduced worm issues.” The breeding ewes, which are continuously joined, have consistently achieved 120% annualised lambings, compared with local merino annual lambings of 45%. The progeny are finished in Dudley’s own on property feedlots. They were then killed at Dudley’s abattoirs to retail in 5 of Dudley’s Brisbane butcher shops at Taigum, Cannon hill, Capalaba, Woodridge and Broadbeach.

Dudley’s breed objectives have taken a new turn. “There is still a bias against Damara and Damara merino crosses by buyers, most of whom, when asked, have never tasted the product. This still needs attention and will resolve itself by market pressure. But in the meantime, we are crossing our Damaras with nearly a thousand purebred Dorper and white Dorper rams to give a more traditional shape to the carcass. We are developing our purebred Van Rooy flock and have plans for the ultimate composite meat sheep ewe involving only the South African breeds, Damara, Dorper and white Dorper and van Rooy. This composite would be crossed with the appropriate Damara or Dorper to produce a consistent shape carcass.”

Of interest, as Damaras went into decline from an estimated flock size of 100,000 in Queensland to less than 50,000 and Dorpers increased in favour, Damara cross ewes were and are used as a desirable dam for breeding up programs by many Qld meat sheep producers with outstanding results and high market acceptance of their “meat master” lambs. This compares with many NSW producers who have used woolly anoestrus British breed ewes in their cleanskin composite grading up programs.

Last changed: Feb 16 2012

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