May 15, 2004
May 2004 -- Named after the semiarid region of South Africa that is the birthplace of Dorper sheep and Boer goats, Karoo Genetics has become a producer of superior genetics - sheep, embryos, artificial insemination and semen - for sale to an international market.
Dr. Chris Visser grew up on an extensive sheep farming operation in South Africa and came to the United States in 1980. After a year in New Jersey, Visser ended up in Scottsdale where he is a veterinarian who specializes in animal dentistry.
"Karoo Genetics started out as a hobby, but has grown into a full-scale operation," Visser said.
Visser works with his wife, Dr. Ann Young-Visser, a physician, and their son, Christo Visser, who is the full-time ranch manager.
Karoo Genetics, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., was founded in 1995 for the purpose of bringing top quality meat sheep genetics to the North American sheep industry. The company's primary focus has been the importation and production of Dorper sheep.
"Dorper/White Dorper sheep are an ideal breed for the North American industry," Visser said. "This breed produces animals that are very hardy, highly adaptable to different climates, nonselective grazers and year-round breeders.
"There has been a growing interest in this breed amongst U.S., Canadian and Mexican sheep breeders, both as a primary breed and to use for crossing with their existing sheep to improve meat production," Visser added.
Karoo Genetics started by importing embryos from South Africa via Canada to develop a base flock. The company's customers include both stud and commercial sheep breeders.
"Our customers are interested in improving their existing flock's meat production and quality and are attracted to the Dorper breed's hardiness and natural shedding - obviating the expense of shearing," Visser said.
In 2000, Karoo Genetics moved its base flock and operations to Willcox, Ariz., in order to expand. About 250 ewes call the 155-acre ranch home.
"The business plan now includes both natural breeding, artificial insemination and embryo programs to increase flock size and sales of both Dorper animals and genetics," Visser said. "We have both Dorper, or black-headed, and White Dorper sheep available, thus meeting the needs of buyers with different preferences for their flocks."
According to Visser, of the ranch's 155 acres, about 140 acres are irrigated and the ranch is almost self-sufficient with its forage. Visser said his goal is to grow the 500 ewes and to continue to produce the best possible for the North American market.
"This year we plan to begin importing new genetics from South Africa via Australia," he said. "These are superior animals, and we will import both live animals and the embryos and semen to improve our herd."
Visser credited some of Karoo Genetic's success to the National Livestock Producers Sheep & Goat Fund. The loan was established about 18 months ago and has been used to further develop the ranch to enhance the embryo program.
Visser has been instrumental in bringing the Dorper breed to North America and was cofounder of the American Dorper Sheep Breeder Association.
Karoo Gentics has also donated Dorper rams to several universities including, Wyoming, Texas A&M and Chico, Calif., to be utilized in research crossbreeding programs designed to improve U.S. meat-sheep carcass quality.
For more information about the Sheep & Goat Fund, visit Web site http://www.nlpa.org/index.html
Fast Dorper Facts:
- The Dorper was originally bred from two breeds, namely the Blackhead Persian and Dorset Horn.
- Dorper sheep originated from a crossbreeding program and are half-wool/half-hair foundation. This has resulted in a mixed fiber covering that provides the animal with protection but does not require shearing.
- Dorper skins are regarded as some of the finest in the world. They have a smooth grain and are used in the manufacture of high-quality gloves and automotive seating.
- The thickness of Dorper skins allows them to be split. This means each Dorper lambskin can be used to produce twice the square footage of leather compared to other pure hair sheep.