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Karoo Genetics Works to Improve
Sheep Herd One Embryo at a Time

By Melissa Schneider

Named after the semiarid region of South Africa that is the birthplace of Dorper sheep and Boer goats, Karoo Genetics has become a producer of superior genetics (sheep, embryos, artificial insemination, and semen) for sale to an international market.

Dr. Chris Visser grew up on an extensive sheep farming operation in South Africa and came to the United States in 1980. After a year in New Jersey, Visser ended up in Scottsdale where he is a veterinarian who specializes in animal dentistry.Karoo Genetics

"Karoo Genetics started out as a hobby, but has grown into a full-scale operation," Visser said. Visser works with his wife, Dr. Ann Young-Visser, a physician, and their son, Christo Visser, who is the full-time ranch manager.

Karoo Genetics, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., was founded in 1995 for the purpose of bringing top quality meat sheep genetics to the North American sheep industry. The company's primary focus has been the importation and production of Dorper sheep.

"Dorper/White Dorper sheep are an ideal breed for the North American industry," Visser said. "This breed produces animals that are very hardy, highly adaptable to different climates, nonselective grazers and year-round breeders."

"There has been a growing interest in this breed amongst U.S., Canadian, and Mexican sheep breeders, both as a primary breed and to use for crossing with their existing sheep to improve flock meat production," Visser said.

Karoo Genetics started by importing embryos from South Africa via Canada to develop a base flock. The company's customers include both stud and commercial sheep breeders.

"Our customers are interested in improving their existing flock's meat production and quality and are attracted to the Dorper breed's hardiness and natural shedding - obviating the expense of shearing."

In 2000, Karoo Genetics moved its base flock and operations to Willcox, Ariz., in order to expand. About 250 ewes call the 155-acre ranch home.

"The business plan now includes both natural breeding, artificial insemination and embryo programs to increase flock size and sales of both Dorper animals and genetics.," Visser said. "We have both Dorper, or black-headed, and White Dorper sheep available, thus meeting the needs of buyers with different preferences for their flocks."

Karoo GeneticsAccording to Visser, of the ranch's 155 acres, about 140 acres are irrigated and the ranch is almost self-sufficient with its forage production. Visser said that his goal is to grow the operation to 500 ewes and to continue to produce the best genetics possible for the North American market.

"This year we plan to begin import-ing new genetics from South Africa via Australia," he said. "These are superior animals and we will import both live animals and the embryos and semen to improve our herd."

Visser credited some of Karoo Genetic's success to the National Livestock Producers Sheep & Goat Fund. The loan with the Sheep & Goat Fund was established about 18 months ago and has been used to further develop the ranch and to enhance the embryo program.

"The NLPA Sheep & Goat Fund has been a tremendous asset in helping our business grow," Visser said. "Without the Fund, Karoo Genetics had about 15 ewes in its embryo program, but with it, we have 50 ewes in the program."
Karoo Genetics
Visser has been instrumental in bringing the Dorper breed to North America and was cofounder of the American Dorper Sheep Breeder Association.

Karoo Genetics has also donated Dorper rams to several universities including, Wyoming, Texas A & M and Chico, Calif., to be utilized in research crossbreeding programs designed to improve USA meat sheep carcass quality.

"Given the decline in the American sheep industry due to multiple economic and both internal and external industry forces, Karoo Genetics sees the future of the American Sheep industry as one which must promote and produce high quality meat for the market in order to remain viable," Visser said.

For more information on Karoo Genetics, please call 480-994-3909, email at or visit their website at

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