“If you do nothing in life, nothing happens.”
Poll Dorset breeder Don McKinnon has lived by that slogan, and it has certainly proven true for him.
The long time Dorset lover started with Dorset Horns in 1956, his first ram being 93/57 from Newdevon in Adelaide, before
buying in his first Poll Dorset ram Allendale 162/59 - both of which he recalls easily from memory.
“Those sort of things mean a lot to me,” Don said.
Don and the McKinnon family started the Derby Downs stud in 1960 at Derby Farm, Leichardt, Victoria.
He was there for the start of the Poll Dorset breed, and remembers how it was a hard sell at times.
“Because the Dorset Horn was the dominant prime lamb breed, when the first Poll Dorsets came out of South Australia people
used to hold horns that had come from the Dorset Horns up to the pollies heads to show how they looked just like the Dorset
Horn,” Don recalled.
But at Derby Downs, now based at Marong, they adopted the new poll genetics early on.
“We just like lots of others at the time would get what was a fairly good poll ram and just put them over your horn ewes and
nearly all your lambs would be polled and about 50 per cent of your ram lambs would be clean polled,” he said.
Don judged the first Poll Dorset showing at the Sydney Royal in 1978.
When asked why Poll Dorsets were his breed of choice, Don replied “I just love the breed.”
“I could have gone anyway when I first went farming, I was tempted by Corriedales at one stage and I love seeing a good
Merino - I still do,” he said.
“My Dad used to breed prime lambs and he used to buy some of the Douglas’ and others Dorset Horn sheep…so I gradually
fell into Dorset Horn.
“And then horns were a problem and so there was no doubt that like everyone else we wanted to see a day where we could
breed a sheep without those horns with the same quality as the old Dorset Horn.”
The Dorset Horn was the background of most of the “better prime lamb sires”, according to Don
“The White Suffolk introduced the Dorset to get the black out of the Suffolk, so the Dorset influence is just about everywhere in
any decent prime lamb,” he said.
After 62 years of breeding, Don said the size of the sheep has been the biggest change in the breed.
“I used to kneel down to hold my sheep…now I stand up! It is amazing the change that has happened,” he said.
“And it is probably floating back the other way now to redce the size and get more shape into them.”
Don’s life “went off in lots of different directions”, namely a large earthmoving and contracting business which took him off farm.
“I came back to help at showtimes, but it is only the last 10 or 12 years I have been back farming full time,” he said.
From the trotting track in Bendigo to a golf course on the Gold Coast, Don’s business took him across the country, but he has
remained a councilor on the Bendigo Show Society since 1967.
Don played perhaps the pivotal role in ensuring the Australian Sheep and Wool Show remained at the Bendigo Showgrounds,
and had access to the facilities it needed to grow into the event it is today.
“In 2001 after the first show here, our local member Jacinta Allen - now deputy Premier of Victoria - was willing to support
us and see what could be done about upgrading the facilities because we only had marquees,” Don remembers.
“So on 21st November 2001 she took us to meet John Brumby, the state treasurer at the time, and he offered about
$2.5 million to upgrade facilities.”
However agreement on how, or more importantly where, the funding would be used was not unanimous amongst sheep
breeders, with some pushing for a move to a different location.
As then president of the Bendigo Show Society, Don campaigned for the ASWS Show to remain at the showground,
and was finally victorious when the Exhibition Centre was opened at the showgrounds in 2005.
“That was our first step and that was only about half the space that the ASBA (Australian Sheep Breeders Association)
wanted…so then eventually I went to the drawing board and this (the current sheep pavilion) was my design.
“ASBA to this day have free use of the showgrounds for this (ASWS) event, and in return contribute funds to assist the
Bendigo Show Society in any future requirements.”
Don said his long fight to ensure the Australian Sheep and Wool Show remained at the Bendigo Showgrounds and have
the facilities now available to it, meant he was particularly passionate about the show.
Which was why he and wife Marj were more than happy to contribute a substantial amount to the event this year to ensure
they were able to get insurance and continue on, after Covid-19 lockdowns saw the event canceled the night before it started in
In honour of that contribution, and his long time support of the event, the supreme Poll Dorset exhibit of the ASWS has now
been named in perpetuity the Don Mckinnon award.
“It was a little bit overwhelming for me - I very much appreciate it,” Don said.