A hill at the 170-acre Cedar Ridge Stables in Reform is dotted with white, fuzzy sheep — and quite a bit of their wool. But their owner Tammy Doughty isn’t worried. Her white Dorper sheep naturally shed every year.
“Even though they have wool, it’s useless; it’s just part of their hair,” Doughty said. “They grow it in the fall as the weather starts cooling off. They shed in the summer, just like dogs or horses shed their winter coats.”
Sheep breeds fall into two categories: woolly or hair. Woolly breeds, like Suffolks, require shearing and are raised for meat and wool. Hair sheep are raised for meat.
“Dorpers are originally from South Africa and really excel in our Southern climate with the humidity,” Doughty said. “They’re sturdier. Anyone in Alabama wanting to get into the sheep business should get hair sheep because of our weather.”
Doughty knows there’s a significant difference between raising woolly and hair sheep in the South. She started her flock in 2002 with four Suffolks. After expanding to more than 100 ewes, she transitioned her flock to white Dorpers and is becoming known as a premiere breeder. She serves on the Alabama Farmers Federation Meat Goat and Sheep State Committee, which allows her to connect with other goat farmers.
Shepherds from across the Southeast travel to Pickens County to buy her lambs. Tallapoosa County hobby shepherd Vivian Devisser said she has been pleased with a ram purchased from Doughty.
“I wish I had gotten more sheep from her,” Devisser said. “The ram has produced big, beautiful babies. We’ve never had any problems with birthing his lambs, and they are very nice looking.”
Doughty’s reputation as a breeder has grown so much she has a waiting list for lambs, which includes Dale County farmer Jamie Dykes.
“I feel confident she has top-notch blood lines, and she’s one of the best breeders in the Southeast,” said Dykes. “You couldn’t ask for anybody more helpful or nice. I feel like I can call her up anytime, and she’d be willing to help.”
Dykes is just getting started in the sheep business and plans to add six of Doughty’s sheep to his current flock of 35. Doughty expects a greater demand for lambs after her recent purchase of Lewis, a ram sired by one of Australia’s top rams.
“I’ve had several people contact me about wanting lambs from Lewis,” she said. “I like people knowing the quality of sheep we produce here. That’s what I’m looking for – a quality, marketable animal.”
Easy breeding is another Dorper characteristic. According to the American Dorper Sheep Breeder’s Society, they can breed every eight months. That allows Doughty to produce a fall and spring crop of lambs, compared to one crop a year with Suffolks.
The only downside is Dorpers, like most sheep, are susceptible to predators and parasites, Doughty said. One of the most heart-breaking moments of sheep farming was losing 34 ewes in 30 days because of a blue-green algae outbreak, she said.
“We can’t leave sheep like you can cows,” Doughty said. “It’s important to have a good guard dog protecting the flock.”
Doughty discovered her passion for sheep farming after retiring from the U.S. Postal Service. She and husband Jimmy hope to pass on their passion for farming to their smallest farmhand, grandson Tyler Lindsey.
“He’s 20 months old and just loves walking up to the sheep,” Doughty said. “We’re hoping he might become the sixth-generation on this farm.”