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Katahdins are a relatively new American breed of hair sheep, developed in the 1950's by a sheep farmer and amateur geneticist by the name of Michael Piel. Piel named the breed after Mt. Katahdin in Maine, near where his farm was located. Katahdins are a cross between the hair sheep (St. Croix) that Piel imported from the Caribbean and the British sheep breeds (primarily Suffolk) that he had on his farm. In the 1970's, the Wiltshire Horn, a shedding breed from England, was introduced. The influence of the Wiltshire Horn was later diminished as selection against horns was imposed. A Katahdin breed association and registry was established in 1985 and 1986, respectively. Today, Katahdins are the most popular breed of sheep in the United States, as measured by registration and transfer numbers. They are also popular as a commercial ewe breed.  

What are the most outstanding qualities of the Katahdin breed?

Initially, people are drawn to Katahdins because they don't require shearing, crutching, or tail docking. Crutching is when the wool is removed from around the sheep's udder, anus, and vulva (usually prior to lambing and/or to remove dags). The Katahdin's documented resistance to gastro-intestinal parasites is another distinct advantage to the breed. Katahdins also excel in fitness and reproductive traits: fertility, prolificacy, mothering ability, and milk production. The Katahdin is probably the best "all-around" breed of hair sheep in the United States and Canada, having characteristics somewhat intermediate between unimproved hair sheep and wooled, meat-type sheep breeds.    ↑

Do Katahdins have to be sheared?

Not usually. It is usually not necessary to shear Katahdin sheep. While coat texture and length varies among individuals and coats may contain woolly fibers, Katahdins naturally shed their coats when temperatures and day length begin to increase. Katahdins that do not completely shed out should probably not be registered or kept for breeding (in purebred flocks). Not all Katahdin lambs will completely shed their coats, but this does not mean that they will not completely shed as yearlings or mature animals. Crosses between hair and wooled sheep usually require shearing; their fleeces should be discarded.

How big are Katahdin sheep?

According to the Katahdin Hair Sheep International, the Katahdin is a medium-sized breed. Weights of mature ewes (in good body condition) range from 125 to 180 pounds. Rams usually range in weight from 180 to 250 lbs. The average birth weight of twins is 8 pounds. Though many are sold at lighter weights, Katahdin wethers are appropriate for conventional North American markets, able to reach finish weights of 95 to 115 pounds.

Some Katahdins have a "swelling" on their throat or neck. What is it?

The throat swelling (shown in the picture above) is called "milk goiter." It is common in hair sheep lambs and sometimes goats. A British study (with goats) determined milk goiter to be an enlargement of the thymus gland. It is not a problem and should not be misdiagnosed as goiter (iodine deficiency), "bottle jaw" (symptom of severe barber pole worm infection), or an abscess. It seems to be most common in well-nourished, good-performing lambs. It is sometimes observed in ewes.

Are Katahdins suitable for cold climates?

Yes. The Katahdin was developed in a cold climate (Maine). A recent study in France showed that lambs with longer, hairy birth coats had higher survival than lambs with shorter, woolly coats. The good mothering ability of the Katahdin further improves survivability in cold weather. Katahdins adapt well to different climates. They will adapt to colder climates by growing a thicker coat in the winter. Conversely, Katahdins raised in warmer climates will have coats with less woolly fibers. A sheep's ability to withstand cold and wet is also highly dependent upon nutrition. Sheep in better body condition have a lower critical temperature than the thinner members of the flock. As with any breed of sheep, Katahdins that are kept outside need to be fed more than sheep that are housed indoors. They should have protection from extreme weather conditions.

Is it necessary to dock the tails of Katahdin lambs?

No. Docking is when the length of the tail is shortened. It is usually not necessary to dock the tails of Katahdin and other hair sheep lambs. In fact, the breed standards stipulate that Katahdins kept for breeding not be docked. On the other hand, it may be advisable to dock the tails of hair x wool crosses. Some ethnic buyers of lambs prefer that lambs not be docked. Some packers may discriminate against lambs are are not docked. Know your market.

Are Katahdins resistant to gastro-intestinal parasites?

As a breed, Katahdins are more resistant to gastro-intestinal parasites (worms) than wooled sheep, though resistance will vary among flocks and individuals. According to various research studies, their resistance is intermediate between wooled sheep and unimproved hair sheep breeds such as the St. Croix and Barbados Blackbelly. Generally, Katahdins will not require anthelmintic treatment as often as wooled sheep. However, lambs are still susceptible to worm infections, especially those grazed in warm, humid environments. As with other breeds, Katahdins, especially lambs, should be closely monitored for clinical signs of internal parasitism and the need for anthelmintic treatment. The National Sheep Improvement Program (NSIP) is a quantitative genetic evaluation program which Katahdin breeders can use to identify animals that are more resistant to internal parasites. Virginia Tech conducts a ram performance test, in which ram lambs are challenged with parasites. Producers can improve resistance in their own flocks by favoring animals that don't require deworming or by selecting animals that shed fewer eggs.

How many lambs do Katahdins usually have?

1 to 4. Though litter size is affected by many factors including age of ewe, season of breeding, and nutrition, mature Katahdin ewes usually average more than two lambs per lambing. Quad births are not unheard of. Nor is it uncommon for yearling ewes to give birth to twins or even triplets.The maximum lambing percentage will usually be achieved with fall breeding and spring lambing. Ewes that are in poor body condition may not ovulate as many eggs and produce as many lambs. Ewes on accelerated breeding programs may produce less lambs per litter, but more per year.  Lambing percentage can be improved by selecting replacements from the most prolific ewes in the flock or using NSIP to select breeding stock with favorable EBVs for number (lambs) born and number weaned.

When can Katahdins be bred for the first time?

Katahdins are an early-maturing breed, reaching puberty at an early age Ewe lambs can be bred to have their first lambs by the time they are 12-14 months old, so long as they have achieved sufficient size (weight). In fact, weight is more important than age when deciding when to breed ewes for the first time. Ewe lambs should achieve approximately two-thirds of their mature size before being bred. Thus, if mature ewes in a flock average 150 lbs., ewe lambs should weigh at last 100 lbs. before being mated. Ewe lambs will do much better as first-time moms if they are fed and managed separately from mature ewes until the time they wean their first lambs or are bred for the second time. Katahdin ram lambs can efficiently service ewes by the time they are 7 to 8 months of age and have achieved approximately 50 percent of their mature weight.  For this reason, it is important to separate ewe and ram lambs by the time they are four months of age.

Do Katahdins need to be fed grain?

It depends. Katahdins are a very productive breed of sheep. It is difficult to meet the nutritional requirements of highly-productive ewes without feeding some grain during late gestation and early lactation. On the other hand, superior forage will greatly reduce the need for supplemental feeding. Supplemental feeding will improve the performance of sheep, especially growing lambs, but the increased performance needs to be balanced against the cost of the supplemental feed. The economics of grain feeding (lambs) will vary by operation. Maximum production is not always the most profitable, but nor is low-input production necessarily more profitable.

Is the meat from Katahdin sheep milder in flavor (less muttony) than the meat from wooled sheep?

Maybe. Many producers believe that the meat (especially mutton) from Katahdin sheep is milder in flavor than the meat from wooled sheep. However, there is little scientific data to support this claim. The claim is largely anecdotal. At the same time, research has shown that the meat from coarse-wooled breeds is milder in flavor than the meat from fine-wool sheep. Grain-feeding will also produce lamb with a milder flavor. The intensity of the lamb or "mutton" flavor increases with age.

Does the meat from Katahdin lambs have less saturated fat and a more desirable ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids than the meat from wooled breeds?

This is not known. While there is some evidence to suggest that the meat from Katahdin sheep is more healthful than the meat from wooled lambs, the data is limited and the design of the studies making such claims has been questioned by meat scientists. Breeders who wish to make this claim when they are marketing their Katahdin lamb need to back it up with data from representative samples of their meat. Diet can also exert a large effect on the fatty acid composition of meat. While grass feeding tends to improve the ratio of omega-3 to omega 6 fatty acids, a concentrate diet with certain fats and oils can have a similar nutritional profile. There many other factors that can affect the nutritional profile of meat. However, the differences are generally not significant to the human diet.

What are the advantages to crossing Katahdin ewes with a
terminal sire?

The purpose of a terminal sire is to produce superior crossbred market lambs. A terminal sire excels in growth and carcass traits, whereas maternal breeds, such as the Katahdin, excel in reproductive and fitness traits. Examples of terminal sire breeds include Suffolk, Hampshire, Shropshire, Oxford, Texel, and Southdown. Crossbred market lambs (sired by terminal sires) will almost always be superior to the lambs of maternal breeds in terms of size, performance, carcass quality, and market acceptability.   The choice of terminal sire breed will depend upon the production system and desired finish weight of crossbred market lambs. For example, Texel sires are well suited to pasture finishing systems, whereas a Suffolk sire might be more desirable for feed lot finishing and heavier weight market lambs.

If you start with a flock of wooled sheep, how long will it take eliminate the need for shearing?

Depending upon the parent breed(s), it may take up to three generations of crossing with purebred Katahdin rams to eliminate the need for shearing in the F3 (third generation) offspring. The F1 and F2 crossbred ewes will probably require some shearing and their fleeces should be discarded. Parent breeds with short wool and bare heads, legs, and bellies may not require three generations of crossing to eliminate the need for shearing. Once the shedding genes have been introduced, selection can improve the efficiency of shedding. If a registered Katahdin ram is used for upgrading, each generation of crossbred lambs can be recorded with the Katahdin breed registry. The F3's (87.5 percent Katahdin) can be registered as Katahdins as yearlings, after passing a coat inspection.

Are Katahdins the best breed
of sheep?

No. There are no "best" breeds of sheep. All breeds (or types) have characteristics which make them either suitable or unsuitable for different environments, production systems, and markets. The goal should be to balance the characteristics of the different breeds and utilize them in their appropriate roles. For the Katahdin, the appropriate role (in the U.S.) is usually as the dam, in an environment in which their worm resistance and shedding is advantageous, and for markets that favor lighter weight lambs.  In other countries, Katahdins may be superior in growth and carcass characteristics as compared to local breeds, making them a suitable terminal sire or sire of crossbred ewes.

Katahdins don't look like "regular" sheep. Are they part goat?

No. Katahdins are a 100% sheep. They have 54 chromosomes like other sheep. In fact, matings between sheep and goats (which have 60 chromosomes) will rarely result in a fertile pregnancy. Originally all sheep were hair sheep. In fact, the ancestor of most modern breeds of sheep is a hair sheep called Mouflon. It resembles a goat in appearance. In addition to longer guard hairs, the Mouflon's hair coat has a short, soft undercoat of wool, which was selected for increased wool production, resulting in wool breeds of today.     

What color are Katahdins?

The coat of a Katahdin can be any color or combination of color: white, brown, black, or red. White is the most common color, but white sheep may be spotted or have unique color patterns. Color preference varies. Some breeders prefer all-white sheep because they are more uniform in appearance, whereas others enjoy the diversity of colors in the Katahdin gene pool. The breed association does not discriminate based on color, and there are no documented production differences between Katahdins of different colors or color patterns.    


Do Katahdins have horns?

Not usually. Most Katahdins are naturally-polled and generally do not have horns. The polled condition is the preference of the breed association and most breeders. However, the Katahdin breed standards do allow horns and scurs. Scurs are incompletely-developed horns that are usually loosely attached to the head. Horns in Katahdins are a residual influence of the Wiltshire Horn breed.  

Can Katahdins be raised with wooled sheep?

Yes. The management and nutritional needs of Katahdins are not different than wooled breeds of similar size (weight) and productivity. The only disadvantage to keeping Katahdins with wooled breeds of sheep is that when Katahdins are actively shedding their coats, some of their hair may get onto the fleece of the wooled sheep. For this reason, Katahdins and other hair sheep should probably be kept separate from sheep that produce high quality wool, at least during the active shedding period. In the West, where high quality fine wool is produced, some wool buyers may discriminate against a clip from a farm in which hair sheep are comingled with the wooled sheep.  

Are Katahdins suitable for all regions of the U.S. and Canada?

Probably not. Katahdins are best-suited to warm, moist climates where internal parasites (worms) are a major limitation to profitable production. In fact, hair sheep are probably the only kind of sheep that should be raised in the humid South and similar climates. They are the ideal choice of hair sheep because they will produce better quality carcasses than the unimproved hair sheep breeds, while still retaining some of the parasite resistance and reproductive efficiency of tropically hair sheep. Katahdins are particularly well-suited to the ethnic markets, which usually prefer lambs weighing less than 100 lbs. Because Katahdins lack the flocking instinct of fine wool breeds, they are not well-suited to range sheep production. Nor are they the best choice for commodity lamb markets that demand a heavy carcass (over 65 lbs.). Katahdin lambs may be discounted when pelt prices are high. They may be discounted by some packers.

Can you sell the fleeces from hair x wool crosses?

Not usually. While you usually have to shear hair x wool crosses, the fleeces generally have no economic value and will negatively impact the value of a wool clip if they are mixed. You should never take fleeces from hair x wool crosses to a wool pool, warehouse, scouring plant, or mill (or at least you should disclose them). The fleeces from hair x wool crosses should generally be discarded, unless an individual finds a unique market or need for hair x wool fleeces.  For example, the fleeces from hair x wool crosses should be suitable for insulation material.  They could also be used to make archery targets.

Do Katahdin ram lambs need to be castrated?

It depends. The decision to castrate Katahdin ram lambs is not different from the decision to castrate ram lambs from other breeds. Many factors go into making this important management decision, which will vary by operation. Ram lambs grow faster than wether lambs and the ethnic markets usually prefer intact males. On the other hand, intact males are more difficult to manage. They may cause unwanted pregnancies and be discriminated against in some markets. If ram lambs are left intact, they should be separated from their dams and female mates by the time they are four months of age.  

Are Katahdin sheep "easy care?"

They can be. Katahdin sheep do not require shearing, crutching, tail docking, or frequent deworming. However, their need for hoof trimming is probably not different than other breeds of sheep, being primarily dependent upon climate and environmental factors. Selection for dark hoof color may reduce the need for hoof trimming. Lambing ease is affected more by management and nutrition than breed. Katahdins are usually good mothers and milkers which can reduce the need for shepherding (labor). Katahdin ewes usually maintain good flesh on pasture.    

Can Katahdin ewes raise triplets?

As with any breed, it depends. Genetics and nutrition are the two determining factors. Ewes that are nursing triplet lambs have significantly higher nutritional requirements than those nursing twins or single lambs. Not only do they need to consume more feed, but the ration needs to be more nutrient-dense. In fact, a ewe that is nursing triplets cannot usually consume enough dry or wet forage to meet her nutritional requirements for lactation. Concentrate feeding is usually necessary. It is recommended that ewes be separated into production groups and fed according to the number of lambs they are nursing. In pasture lambing situations, it is not uncommon to remove a triplet lamb for artificial rearing. Alternatively,  triplet bearing ewes could be separated and given access to better pastures. Despite good nutrition, some ewes still lack the genetic potential to produce enough milk for their lambs. Replacements should not be selected from these ewes. Replacements should always be selected from good milking dams.

Do Katahdins breed out-of-season?

Some do; some don't. As a breed, Katahdins tend to be less seasonal than most long and medium wool breeds of British origin, but more seasonal than certain other breeds. Katahdins are probably more likely to breed in the summer (for late fall lambs) than the spring for (early fall lambs). Those interested in out-of-season breeding should purchase their foundation breeding stock from farms which lamb in the fall or on an accelerated lambing system. Replacement breeding stock should be selected from ewes that consistently lamb out-of-season or every 8 months. The Katahdin breed association keeps records of flocks that breed out-of-season. Estrus can also be induced in non-cycling ewes though the use of CIDRs (and other hormonal treatments) and/or the ram effect.

Can Katahdin lambs be finished on pasture?

Yes. Katahdin lambs can be finished on good quality pasture. In fact, lambs are the only livestock that can produce a USDA Choice quality carcass on forage alone. Katahdins can also be finished on concentrate diets or a combination of forage and grain or grain by-products. There are pros and cons to different feeding regimes. It may be more economical to raise lambs on pasture, but they will usually grow slower, produce lighter carcasses, and have more problems with internal parasites (worms) and predation. On the other hand, the meat from grass-fed lambs may be more healthful in terms of its fatty acid composition and vitamin content. Conversely, grain-fed lambs tend to grow faster, get bigger, and bring higher prices in commercial markets. Their carcasses will be bigger and fatter, but their meat will usually be milder in flavor.

Are the carcasses from Katahdins leaner than the carcasses from wooled breeds?

No. No breed of sheep is fatter or leaner. Different breeds of sheep and individuals within a breed simply have different optimal finish weights. There can also be important differences in how breeds fatten, as once a lamb reaches its optimal finish weight, it will start to deposit excess fat. As wooled breeds fatten, they will deposit excess fat on the outside of their bodies, over their backbone, ribs, and loin. External fat can be evaluated in the live animal via handling or ultrasound. By the time wooled sheep deposit fat internally around their organs, they are very fat. Conversely, hair sheep, Finn sheep, and goats will deposit excess fat around their internal organs first. If they are fattened to have the same degree of external fat, they will have a considerable amount of internal (kidney and heart) fat. The frame size of the Katahdin (medium) also limits the weight to which lambs can be finished (without depositing excessive fat). The Katahdin is ideally suited to markets that desire slaughter lambs weighing less than 100 lbs. At these lighter weights, Katahdin lambs will still be lean and most of the fat in their carcasses can be removed.  Heavier finish weights may be achieved by raising bigger-framed Katahdins or by crossing Katahdin ewes with rams of a larger mature size (e.g. Suffolk).  Feeding a lower energy diet for a longer period of time will also enable Katahdin lambs, especially males, to reach heavier finish weights. Katahdins should probably not be fed for maximum gain. ↑

Can you cross Katahdins with other breeds?

Yes and there are good reasons to do so. In fact, unless the goal of the sheep enterprise is to produce purebred animals (to show or sell as breeding stock), crossbreeding is almost always a better system of mating. Crossbreeding offers two distinct advantages over purebreeding: hybrid vigor and breed complementarity. Hybrid vigor (or heterosis) is the superiority of the crossbred offspring as compared to the average performance of its two purebred parents. Breed complementarity is when the strengths and weakness of different breeds (for a particular production system) are balanced in a breeding program.  

Do crossbred Katahdins make good commercial ewes?

Yes. Katahdins are a good foundation for developing crossbred ewes for commercial lamb production. A crossbred ewe has the same advantages as a crossbred lamb: hybrid vigor and breed complementarity. Hybrid vigor is maximized when a crossbred ewe is bred to a ram of another breed (or type) to produce crossbred lambs. Breed complementarity is also maximized when a crossbred ewe is bred to terminal sire. Crossing should be with complementary biological types. The shedding ability of crossbred ewes will depend upon breed make-up and selection pressure for shedding.  As a relatively new composite breed, the Katahdin also maintains some hybrid vigor of its own.

Katahdin sheep


Katahdin sheep

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