top of page

Judging sheep and goats in the Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic (DR) is the second largest importer of sheep and goats from the United States. For the past two years, I have had the opportunity to judge the national sheep and goat show in Santo Domingo, the capitol city.

The show has separate divisions for native and imported animals. Sheep (ovinos) breeds include the Barbados Blackbelly, Pelibüey, Katahdin, Dorper and crossbreds (sired by purebred Katahdin or Dorper rams). Goat (caprinos) breeds include Boer, Nubian and Alpine and crossbreds (sired by Boer bucks).

The Barbados Blackbelly is the most numerous sheep in the Caribbean, a sleek, badger-faced animal noted for its high level of reproduction. The Pelibüey is the "Cuban version" of the Blackbelly, light tan to dark red in color. Katahdins and Dorpers are improved hair/meat breeds, imported to improve sheep meat production. Nubians and more recently, Boers, have been brought in to improve the native goat population. Alpines are used for dairying.

The show was similar, yet different from shows in the United States. There is a greater emphasis on showing animals that are of a producing age, thus I had more opportunity to factor production into my placings. Like cow-calf classes, baby lambs and kids show with their dams in the show ring; mostly they entertain the audience with their constant running and playing.

There are classes for individual rams (machos) and ewes (hembras): 9-12 months of age; 12-18 months; 18-24 months; 24-36 months; and over 36 months. There are no group classes or classes for market animals. I am in the process of making suggestions for sheep and goat classes for next year's national show. In the D.R., handlers do much of the showing.

The owners/breeders watch from ringside.

As in the U.S., there is a great deal of pride associated with winning champion, but it is mostly the competition that the owners /breeders enjoy. Some of the owners show their own animals, and I tried to encourage this, especially among the young people. There aren't any separate completions or 4-H/FFA programs for youth. Showing sheep and goats is relatively new to the Dominicans, so I spent time teaching handlers the basics of showmanship: how to properly set up the feet and legs, the importance of holding the head up high, how to properly put a halter on and how to tell the age of an animal by examining its teeth.

My Supreme Champion ewe was an imported Dorper yearling ewe, a good, all-around ewe with no obvious defects. Dorpers, which may be black-headed or all white in color, are a heavy-muscled hair/meat breed introduced to the U.S. from South Africa. Preliminary research at the University of Wyoming showed that the Dorper compares favorably with the Suffolk as a terminal sire breed – fast, early growth in the feed lot.

Competing against the Dorper, I had a nice Katahdin ewe.

Katahdins are another improved hair/meat sheep developed in the U.S. primarily from crosses between British sheep (Suffolk) and African hair sheep (St. Croix). They are becoming increasingly popular with U.S. shepherds who want an easy-care sheep that doesn't require shearing or excessive grain feeding. My other choices were a Katahdin x Blackbelly ewe, a Dorper x Blackbelly ewe and a purebred Barbados Blackbelly ewe.

A big part of me wanted to select the latter because she was nursing a healthy set of quads and she was only 15 months old; after all, raising lambs is what the sheep business is all about. My personal favorite – the one I want to take home on the plane with me – was the Katahdin x Blackbelly cross ewe, ‘cause I think she'd be the "ideal" ewe for many parts of the Caribbean as well as the southeastern U.S. The Dorper x Blackbelly also makes a nice cross – couldn't even tell she had any Blackbelly in her. She carried a much thicker coat.

My Supreme Champion buck was a three-year old, fullblood Boer billy that tipped the scales at over 300 lbs. He was a big-boned, rugged individual that was packed full of meat and muscle, yet also had some structural correctness about him and a decent disposition. Several of his progeny were in the show, proving he passes along some of his excellent traits. Boers and Boer crosses dominated the goat show,
despite a very large native goat population.

In the future, I think more and more of the livestock at the show will have been bred and raised in the D.R. During my brief trip to the D.R. in March, I received many inquiries about importing sheep from the States. In fact, there is tremendous potential for small ruminant production in the Caribbean, Central and South America as well as Mexico, which is the largest importer of U.S. sheep. These countries are interested primarily in the improved hair/meat sheep breeds, due to their widespread adaptability, parasite tolerance and reproductive efficiency and superior meat type as compared to unimproved hair breeds.

Boer goats and dairy goats are also in demand in Latin America, where goat production is often the bigger industry and goat meat the favored meat. My judging in the Dominican Republic stems largely from my involvement with the Maryland Department of Agriculture's Hair sheep initiative, which has resulted in the sale of a large number of sheep and goats to the Caribbean and continues to promote U.S. sheep and goat germplasm.

This article was written in 1999 by Susan Schoenian.

bottom of page