Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sunday Dose of Cute: How and Why We Added Katahdin Hair Sheep to Our Flock

Katahdin cute overload

It's a funny thing about our sheep shearer—he raises sheep that don't need to be sheared. They're Katahdins, and this hardy breed has hair rather than wool that, as you can see here, comes off each year on its own.

One of the biggest problems we face raising our mostly Suffolk meat sheep here in Missouri is internal parasites, specifically a blood sucking stomach worm known as the barber pole or wire worm. For much of the year it's wet and warm here, which, unfortunately, is Parasite Paradise.

Despite agressively using both commercial and natural wormers, we've lost numerous sheep over the years to worms—and we've been comparatively lucky. I know of one farmer who had most of her flock drop dead from internal parasites—the day after they'd been wormed.

It's terrible. And while there were many benefits to having that extra rain during the past two springs and summers, it made the parasite problem even worse.

Ram lambs lined up for our inspection - we chose the one on the far left.

Katahdin sheep are naturally parasite resistant, and a couple of years ago we got to talking about them with our shearer while he was shearing our sheep. A few weeks later we drove over to his farm and picked out a three-month-old, 75-pound, registered Katahdin ram lamb (whose father was a US champion) to breed to our mostly Suffolk ewes. When Joe saw me squealing over all the corralled cuteness before I could even climb out of the truck, he said it was a good thing we hadn't brought a big stock trailer with us.

You carry the lamb low so the mama can see and smell it.

We also got a great deal on two registered Katahdin ewes who each had a newborn lamb by their side, including one who had been born that morning.




These were the first ewes I purchased since buying my original flock back in 1995. I've always kept a closed flock, expanding it by holding back the best ewe lambs. The only sheep purchased and brought in were rams, which are replaced every couple of years to avoid inbreeding.

The new ram and the littlest new member of the flock.

Sadly, the strapping Katahdin ram lamb was killed by coyotes out in the front field the first morning he was let out of his quarantine holding pen. You can read more about that terrible killing season (which, paws crossed, is permanently over thanks to our super livestock guardian dogs, Marta and Daisy) here.

Edward on the job in fall 2009 (the girls sometimes play hard to get).

Not willing to give up on our plan, we returned to the sheep shearer's farm and picked out another young Katahdin ram. We named him Edward, and in spring 2009, our first Katahdin/Suffolk cross lambs were born. (There are some other breeds mixed in, bred down from some of my original mixed breed ewes, from the Border Leicester ram I used the first few years, and from a wonderful Hampshire ram we had in 2002 and 2003.)

We also bred the two Katahdin ewes with Edward in order to get some more purebred Katahdins, and they each had twins.

Emmy Lou back then

And Emmy Lou now

The Katahdin ewe lamb that arrived here as a newborn, and who I recently (finally!) named Emmy Lou, was also bred when Edward jumped through 11 strands of barbed wire in order to continue breeding season (another story I never got around to telling). She gave birth in spring 2009 to this little cutie pie we named Friendly. The other newborn lamb was a ram, and he eventually went into our freezer so we could see how we liked the taste of Katahdin meat (it's very good).

That gave us a total of seven purebred Katahdin ewes to breed.

We've been thrilled so far with these Katahdin and Katahdin crosses and have high hopes going into spring grazing season, which is one of the wormiest times of the year, especially since hormones in the nursing ewes make them especially susceptible.

We're still aggressively worming, but now we're mostly using a drench (liquid squirted into the throat with a drench 'gun' connected to a 'backpack' holding the liquid) of organic raw apple cider vinegar and garlic juice.* We're also still adding food grade diatomaceous earth, an all natural wormer (which has dozens of other uses, especially in the garden), in with both their grain treats and organic salt/mineral/kelp mix.

Our sheep have never looked better. Even the lambs of the ewes who had bad parasite problems last year aren't wormy.

Okay, I hadn't planned to go all the way back to 2008 to begin the explanation of why our 2010 lambing season started several weeks earlier than expected, but I've actually been meaning to explain how and why we now have Katahdins ever since we got them, especially since many of you have been asking.

Anyway, when I called the sheep shearer to arrange this year's shearing, I asked if he happened to have any big Katahdin ewes for sale, big enough to breed with our big Suffolk ram, Da Big Guy, and he said yes. He had some pregnant six-year-olds for sale who were good sheep with nothing wrong except that they were six years old (many sheep breeders prefer to not to keep ewes older than five). He even could deliver them when he came to shear.


I asked him to pick out the two biggest ewes, and he brought us these gorgeous girls—who both had triplets last year. My main concern with the Katahdins is that we're going to lose the nice big size we've built up over the years with the Suffolks. I prefer to butcher the lambs at about 130 or even 140 pounds, and the purebred Katahdin lambs aren't getting that big. You just don't get as much meat otherwise.

We always take the smallest lambs for ourselves, and some years they've only been about 100 pounds, but our customers prefer them bigger (some want them over 150 pounds if possible)—and since the butcher charges a flat processing fee, they also get more for their money with bigger lambs.

In 2004, we started naming all babies born on the farm alphabetically: 'A' names for 2004, 'B' names for 2005, etc. It makes things so much easier (and only took me nine years to come up with the idea).

Some of you know how long it can take to get a name around here, but amazingly, we've already named our new ewes who were born back in the 'A' year.

This is Ava

And this is Audrey


Ava—whose full name is Ava Gardener so we can remember that these ewes came to live with us in 2010, the 'G' name year—gave birth to these incredibly cute twins last Monday. You can see more photos of them here and here.

Audrey just keeps getting bigger.

The rest of the ewes should start giving birth around April first!

Can't wait? Bounce back down lambie lane:

* If you raise sheep and want to know more about this, let me know. If you're already using the 'last line of defense' wormers like Dectomax and Cydectin and are wondering what you're going to do when your sheep build up an immunity to it, organic garlic juice—which is being studied as a natural wormer specifically because of that looming sheep industry problem—just may be your saving grace.

© FarmgirlFare.com, the sheep loving foodie farm blog where Farmgirl Susan shares recipes, photos, and sometimes very long stories about her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres.

17 comments:

  1. they are so clean and white and I love the white/caramel combination very pleasing on the eye...sheep here tend to look dirty grey once they've stopped being lambs..

    Doesn't it hurt the lamb to be carried like that?

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  2. angela, we used to carry our sons around like that. I can't imagine it hurts the lambs either. :P

    I'd love to hear more about your sheep raising. It's part of our long-term goals to move somewhere with land and raise sheep (mostly for meat, some for wool since I'm a knitter). Plus it's just amusing to hear about them!

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  3. I'm just wondering.... the katahdin sheep naturally shed.... the others -- what would happen if they were not shorn?

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  4. They are cute for sure! However being a hand spinner, I just can't imagine having sheep without the soft, yummy, spinable fleeces! Not that I don't enjoy a good locker lamb as well...

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  5. So...do the katahdin sheep, when they've mixed with the wool sheep--do the lambs retain the hair or switch over to wool? I'm fascinated. And I'll vouch for garlic as an anti-microbial, just anecdotally...

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  6. I want to cuddle them. Sigh.

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  7. I really enjoyed this very informative post. I am moving to a farm in two weeks, a small hobby type but we are going to have some livestock at some point. My partner is talking about getting this very breed so I was delighted to see you writing about them. I grew up on such a place and my parents had milk cows, hogs, chickens, a large garden, I later had horses...we did what they call 'self-sufficiency' or 'homesteading' nowadays, but it was just 'life' for us...

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  8. Echoing Bridgett here-- I'd love to know about how hair versus wool works out. Are all sheep either one or the other? Can a mixed-breed sheep have patches of both? Do the textures blend, so maybe a wool that sheds? And do you have any preference if they're going to be meat anyway?
    Thanks!

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  9. I have never seen a Katahdin sheep around here. They are really lovely!

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  10. What a great post - very informative, really interesting! and your lambs and sheep are so beautiful. Love those babies - I really want some sheep now (and don't forget a donkey or two...)

    Seriously, I do not know how you do everything you do. I am in complete awe!

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  11. They are all so cute - I would have a hard time taking them to the butcher. Someone else would have to do it for me...

    Interestin about the diatomaceous earth - I wonder if you can feed it safely to horses? I'll have to go google that. Would it also work if you sprinkled it in your pasture? Sounds like a way to maybe keep the fly population down...

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  12. I noticed by the picture of the rams that you do not remove the long tails of your sheep. We have sheep, but my husband puts rubber bands on the tails of the lambs and they eventually drop off.

    I love your blog!

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  13. Hi Everybody,
    So glad you enjoyed this little sheep breed lesson. And I can see it spawned lots more questions! I'm kinda swamped right now working sheep and getting ready to be off the farm all day and most of the night tomorrow (and some of you know how carried away I get replying to comments), but I'm hoping to have a chance to answer your questions the best I can on Thursday or Friday, so please check back! : )


    Kathryn,
    We do band the tails of the 'wool' lambs, but the Katahdins don't need their tails banded. You can see both short and long tails in this post, and you can see some banded lamb tails in this post.

    For those of you interested in learning more about tail docking, I wrote about it in the comments section of this post.

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  14. Reading this made me think of the class I'm taking at the moment, 'Ecological Agriculture' our professor is a semi-retired dairy sheep farmer. They had a similar problem with worms, mainly because sheep and the worms are so good at building up their resistances to the de-wormers. They actually use almost no 'de-wormers' anymore. My professor is big on using Systems Thinking to figure out problems on the farm, basically mapping out the issue and looking for larger underlying problems. From what he has told us that they started rotating the flock, and specifically putting the lambs on a pasture that had been hayed the year before to allow for the worms to die off. This way the lambs had low to no exposure to worms and stopping the worm cycle. I'm a wannabe sheep farmer so I don't know if you have the same parasites as we do NY. But I thought I'd share :) If you are curious though the professor wrote a short article about how he decided to do it this way.

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  15. Hi Susan, we are getting our first lambs this spring for our grand children to raise for 4-H and then sell at the county fair. We have a couple of pet mini goats and 11 chickens that lay and 4 horses for riding. We also have a large 12 stall barn that no longer is filled with horses and a barn yard but not a lot of pasture maybe three acres that the horses get first dubs on for turn out and grazing time each day other than that they are fed twice a day in the barn. We only have six acres all together. Our pastures are not dence enough to support anything full time and we live in a mountain climate at 7000 ft anyways so our grazing season is only about 5 months...My question is this, is it cost effective to raise and feed sheep to both butcher and shear and how does that work? Who do you sell your fiber too? Do you shear your own how many can live happily in a large barn yard with chickens and goats and access to their stalls? We would also like to get a pet donkey. These small animals are mostly for "Grammy's Barnyard" for our five grand kids two of which live here. But it would be nice to produce something to offse t the cost of feed and teach the kids about money matters. Please tell me you thoughts of how you think it might work for us and how many sheep, what kind,how to get started and so on if you would be so kind. Thank you so much for your time in advance!
    Susan

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  16. Love the the pictures. Love Katahdins!

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  17. I enjoyed very much my education this morning about Katahdin sheep of which I ad never 'herd' of. Also found quite amusing your relating the way you have of naming your new babies every year. You brighten and enlighten my world every day.

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