Bruce Robertson describes the fellowship of Dorset Down breeders as being like a family.

Breeders from throughout the country were in Canterbury and North Otago last week for an annual tour.

About 35 people visited studs in the Ashburton area, before heading to Aoraki-Mount Cook for a night, a visit to merino property Benmore Station, and then to Oamaru.

It ended with a visit to studs in South Canterbury.

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Mr Robertson, his wife Carolynn and their family run Duncraigen Farm in Southland, which includes a Dorset Down stud, Motu-nui South Romneys, and a Hereford cattle stud.

Robertson's father, Frank, was one of the original breeders to import Dorset Downs from England in 1951.

Maurice Gorman (left) and Bruce Robertson, of Southland, inspect Dorset Down sheep at John and Wendy Dodd's Tapui property. Photo / Sally Rae
Maurice Gorman (left) and Bruce Robertson, of Southland, inspect Dorset Down sheep at John and Wendy Dodd's Tapui property. Photo / Sally Rae

The breed was developed in the 18th century in the county of Dorset by John Ellman, through the crossing of the Southdown, Hampshire and local Dorset breeds.

It was officially recognised in 1906.

During a visit to John and Wendy Dodd's Belview stud at Tapui, inland from Oamaru, Robertson said the type of sheep had changed a lot since those early importations and the number of breeders had gone through "peaks and troughs".

He liked the breed for its growth and early maturity.

It was good to see a few young farmers with studs. A ram lamb trial operating for 15 years had become a real focal point for the breed, he said.

Fellow Southland farmer Maurice Gorman established his Dorset Down stud in 1987.

He had recently sold his farm, but was taking 25 stud sheep with him to his smaller property at Rimu.

Breed committee chairman John Burrows said the breed was in good heart, with breeders reporting good ram sales.