Dorset Down

Origin & History

Developed in the middle of the eighteenth century in the county of Dorset in England by John Ellman, through the crossing the Southdown, Hampshire and local Dorset breeds. It was officially recognised in 1906.

The breed was first brought to New Zealand in 1921, but soon died out. Further importations were made from 1947 onwards and the breed quickly established a niche as a meat breed for the production of export lamb. 

Dorset Down Ewe & Lambs © Graham Meadows Photography
Dorset Down Ewe & Lambs © Graham Meadows Photography

Breed Description

Dorset Down Rams are in strong demand for crossing purposes to produce lean, fast growing lambs for the present world export trade.

Today’s meat trade demands a greater amount of meat and less fat. Dorset Down cross lambs when compared with lambs of other crosses lead the field in this area of meat to fat ratio.

The Dorset Down is one of the most virile rams of all mutton breeds. It has been shown to cover greater than average numbers of ewes per season and remains active for a number of years.

Dorset Downs have won major cutting competitions particularly in recent Heavyweight trials conducted both in New Zealand and Overseas.

Dorset Down Sires can produce:

  • Lambs efficiently
  • Lambs with the fastest daily growth rate
  • Lambs which draft well over the entire range of weights
  • Lambs with lean carcass composition suitable for the present export schedule
  • Carcasses of good conformation, wedge shaped, with narrow forequarters and small briskets
Dorset Down Ram © Graham Meadows Photography
Dorset Down Ram © Graham Meadows Photography

Progressive breeders have recorded growth rate and skilfully used the figures in their breeding programmes which have proved the Dorset Down’s superiority for the productive characteristics of length and leanness.

The Dorset Down Stud Flock at Lincoln University is being used for further research into lean lamb production.

Dorset Down Cross lambs Future marketing requirements show that heavier, leaner lamb is required such as illustrated here from a Dorset Down cross carcass.

These weights are derived from lambs from 18 kgs upwards with a preferred G.R. measurement of 10 mm or less.

Dorset Down meets the whole range of schedule requirements with longer leaner lambs.

The carcass should be of good conformation, wedge shaped, with narrow forequarters and small briskets. The overall carcass length needs to be as long as possible. Sub primals are boned out cuts derived from a whole cut, i.e. leg of lamb or loin of lamb. The eye muscle size would be as wide as possible, i.e. 70 mm or more.

Dorset Down Cross Lambs
Dorset Down Cross Lambs

Breed Classification

Medium-large size. Rapid growth rate. Early maturity. Meat breed. Rams are in demand as sires for terminal crossing with other breeds for the production of prime export lambs.

Location: It is suitable for a wide range of climatic conditions, and found throughout New Zealand from lowland pastures to hill country.

South Dorset Ewe © Graham Meadows Photography
South Dorset Ewe © Graham Meadows Photography
Bodyweight Wool

Ewes: 65-80 kg (143-176 lb)

Rams: 100-130 kg (220-286 lb)

Dense, Down type. Full-handling and springy.

Staple length: 50-75 mm (2-3 inches).

Fleece weight: Range 2-3 kg (4.4-6.6 lb); Average 2.5 kg (5.5 lb).

Uses: Frequently blended with other wools to give extra elasticity and crispness. Also used in the production of high quality hosiery, fine knitting wools, bedding and furniture fillings, papermaking and felts.


Carcase lean, high-yielding. Lean red meat.


110-140 percent

About 51 ,000