Grit Blogs > The Daily Commute

Lambing Season: Katahdin Twins Are Common

By Hank Will, Editor-in-Chief

Tags: lambs, sheep, livestock, farms,

GRIT Editor Hank Will at the wheel of his 1964 IH pickup.Lambing season has begun on my Osage County Kansas farm. Missy, our black bottle lamb from last year dropped her Katahdin twins last Tuesday without any complication other than being slow to clear the membrane from the ram lamb’s face. Happily, my Partner in Culinary Crime was on hand to let the gasping guy out of his sack – he was a little slower than his sister but within an hour was up on his feet claiming his share of colostrum. The comical milk moustaches Missy’s twin lambs wear today are a testament to her fine ability to handle the reproductive load – she’s got lambing season down pat.

Black Katahdin ewe annd lambs

I once read a blog post decrying the value of Katahdin hair sheep, particularly during lambing season. The post’s author had a personal vendetta against the breed and offered up the Merino breed as the end all be all. (Funny the things that get people wound up – Ford vs. Dodge, John Deere vs. IH ….) His principle complaint regarding Katahdin sheep was that they had a “very poor” reproductive rate. Huh? He reported that Katahdin ewes were lucky to pull off a birth rate of 100 percent – that’s one live birth per ewe. Anyone in the livestock business knows that if a bred ewe can’t deliver at least one live offspring during lambing season, she isn’t long for the flock. Not one to take everything I read at face value, I did some investigating. Turns out Katahdin ewes are known for multiple births – up to 222 percent average in large flocks. That explains why the Katahdin ewes I know in Kansas often produce twins and triplets during lambing season and wean twins on their own most of the time.

Black Katahdin ewe with ram lamb

More Katahdin twins are on the way at my farm. Plenty of lush, protein-rich grass is available to help their moms get them off to a good start. All we have to do is keep the coyotes at bay and soon enough that good grass will turn into some of the most delicious, nutritious and tender meat I know of.

Photos courtesy Karen Keb.

Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

hank will_2
4/26/2010 1:30:26 PM

Hey KC -- I am ever hopeful that the donkeys will now earn their keep in the guard department. I prefer ankle-biting terrorizers to bona fide guardian dogs. Six-pound Pearl now has several confirmed kills in the rodent department -- and likes to play with the lambs. Border Collies Gus and Clover make a game of chasing coyotes, every night around 2:37 AM.

k.c. compton
4/26/2010 9:54:42 AM

So, Hank, are you going to get yourself an actual guard dog or two now? Or just manage with those little ankle-biters? Those are some way-cute babies, Mr. Will.

hank will_2
4/26/2010 9:39:22 AM

Hey Dave -- When I was young, the only lamb I ever ate was leg of mutton and it tasted to me like the jar of A & D Ointment smelled. I learned later that it was the lanolin in the ointment that made the smell and that the waxy grease was what helped to waterproof a sheep's coat. The only way I could gag that stuff down was with gobs of mint jelly. Fast forward about 30 years and I tasted my first lamb chop (from a real lamb) on the grill (with lots of fresh rosemary). I was hooked then. Katahdin sheep don't produce much if any lanolin and when slaughtered around 9 months of age they are tender and tasty. I couldn't live without dogs. It is really tough when they move on, but before long I find myself longing for another. I loved the James Herriot series on PBS. That's the kind of reality TV I dig -- that and Ice Road Truckers and Axe Men, that is. :)

nebraska dave
4/24/2010 3:53:43 PM

Hank, I hope your lambing season is a really good one. Although I don’t eat lamb much maybe because Mom never cooked it while growing up. It’s not that I don’t like it, I just don’t think about having it or know how to cook it. I usually stick to chicken, beef, and pork. Dad had sheep after I left for college to keep the weeds down in the pasture land. I have never been around sheep much. I know that they are noted for their multiple births. My only exposure to raising sheep was when I read the “All creatures Great and Small” series about the country Vet from England. It’s almost a given in England to have sheep on the farm. Sheep are drawn to eating weeds first then grass. Even the stickery Canadian Thistle seems to be candy to them. I’m not so much an animal person now that I live on the urban ranch. The last pet (dog) died a few years ago and I really don’t intend to acquire another animal. I had to have him put down because he was suffering so with arthritis. He’d lost his sight and couldn’t hear and I just couldn’t bear to see him suffer along through life. He had brought joy to the family for 15 years. That’s really the issue with pets. They just don’t live long enough. Thanks for always sharing about life on the Osage county Kansas farm.