Sunday, April 14, 2013

Katahdin Hair Sheep

Meet the Katahdin sheep, one of a few hair sheep breeds. They do not grow a fleece that would need shearing, and instead shed the thicker winter coat every spring.

Origins of Katahdin Sheep

Michael Piel, of Maine, USA, set about creating a breed of sheep to use for land maintenance, to control vegetation growth around power lines. In 1957 he imported three young African Hair Sheep, all of whom had been triplets but were not related to each other. Two were ewes, and one was a ram. From there he set about breeding them with each other and other select breeds including the Suffolk, Hampshire, and Cheviot.

He selected the sheep he kept for breeding based on "hair", fertility, meat type conformation, and flocking instinct. In the 1970's he named the new breed "Katahdin", after Mt. Katahdin, in Maine.

Michael passed away in 1976 and the breed went through some small changes, included an experiment in non-polled (horned) crosses, which was done away with in favor of polled (hornless) sheep.

A registry was established in 1986, under the name Katahdin Hair Sheep International.

Katahdin Ewe minutes after lambing, her back is good but the photo makes it look bad

Traits of Katahdin Sheep

The most obvious trait is that Katahdin sheep are covered with hair rather than wool, although some woolly hairs will still be present. This means they do not require shearing or their tails to be docked. The hair is somewhat coarse like that of a German Shepherd dog, and sheds in much the same way.

They are good mothers, often having triplets, although singles or twins are preferred for their first time lambing. Katahdin ewes are good milk producers, and seldom require assistance lambing (unless bred to larger breeds).

They are not a very aggressive sheep, and tend to flock moderately well.

An average Katahdin sheep ewe will weigh around 120 to 160 pounds, with the rams at 180 to 240 pounds. As such they are considered to be a "medium" size sheep.

Katahdin sheep have good parasite resistance.

The most common color being solid white, but Katahdins can also be brown or black, and occasionally are spotted.

Katahdin Ram, 1 year old


Uses of Katahdin Sheep

Katahdin sheep are terrific for hobby farmers looking for a low maintenance animal to control grass growth in their pastures. They will eat many weeds that other animals will over look.

Because they are docile and unusual looking, they also work well in petting zoos.

They are used in cross breeding programs to improve carcass condition, or for their mothering abilities.  Twins are common.

Typically though, most lambs are raised for meat. They have a top quality carcass that is mild in flavor and marketable even past the "lamb" stage. The meat is also particularly lean.

Other Information

With wool prices falling, the cost of shearing often is more than a person can market wool for, as such this breed, is gaining popularity.

Katahdin sheep are now in Canada (I have some), USA, Mexico, Chile, the UK, and Central America.

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