STARTING a sheep stud with no prior knowledge of ovines would be a difficult task for most - but the decision to diversify into Dorpers has paid off for Lindsay and Kaye Knight, Meridian View, Merbein West, Vic.
The couple made the switch to sheep on their small 6-hectare dried fruit block 14 years ago after a long period of extended drought. Their on-farm income is now a 50:50 split between Dorpers and dried fruit.
A tough South African breed, the Dorper was chosen because it was a "very hardy sheep", according to Kaye.
"Water had become very hard to get - it was an alternative we decided upon to supplement dried grapes," she said.
Besides the fruit block and Dorpers, the Knights also have off-farm income with Lindsay working as a truck driver for a local company and Kaye as a gardener two days a week.
"We had horses previously, so we already had a few paddocks set up," Kaye said.
"We decided the Dorpers would be a good fit and drought resistant - they seem to thrive on any feed."
The flock was founded on Roslynmeade and Dell genetics.
The Knights also have 120 peach trees for fresh fruit and 40 apricot trees used for dry fruit.
Old rack wire, previously used to dry fruit, has been converted to use as stock fences.
The sheep graze in the vineyard during winter but are turned out at bud burst to prevent any damage to vines.
Spending most of their days under the shade of the tree, the Dorper prefers to graze at night.
Since the stud's inception in 2008 the Knights have gained a steady business in selling rams to hobby farmers, stations from north of Wentworth, Ballarat, Vic; Tamworth, NSW; Ararat, Vic; and even to Mongolia.
Earlier this year Meridian View sold two rams to Mongolia as part of a flock of 200 sold as breeding stock to the central Asian country.
Stock are sold through an annual sale as part of the Wentworth Dorpers Group, which will be on October 10 this year, and by private selection.
Being accredited through Prime Dorper Lamb, run through Meat & Livestock Australia, would also provide opportunities for marketing.
Apart from breeding stock, the Knights also sell lambs at Ouyen, Vic, market and slaughter a few for themselves.
"We had a roast the other day with family," Kaye said.
"They make absolutely beautiful eating, tender, and have a real melt in your mouth taste.
"We've had comments from butchers that they have more marbling and a better distribution of fat compared to other breeds."
They selected rams on temperament and conformation.
"We find that with wool cover all our clients want full shedding, we also select rams with good feet," she said.
* Full report in Stock Journal, September 11, 2014 issue.