Raising Katahdin Hair Sheep

Reader Contribution by Sheryl Campbell
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What’s a snowbound hobby farmer to do in the dead of winter?  Dream dreams!  Especially lazy dreams of someone or something else doing your work for you come spring.  That’s how we ended up raising Katahdin hair sheep, and giving our belly mower a vacation.

Are you tired of mowing in endless circles?  Then it’s time you dreamed a lazy little dream with us.

Sheep eat grasses and forbs!  Sheep like to mow!  It’s much more emotionally rewarding to do maintenance on animals then on a tractor.  (At least it is to some of us – those who prefer equipment maintenance should read a different article).  But there are all those horror stories of shepherds having to stay up with their sheep all night in lambing season, of sheep purposely seeking out ways to kill or injure themselves, and of animal escape-artists.  So, are there easy sheep created just for lazy farmers?  Of course!  Otherwise we wouldn’t be raising sheep.

Katahdin Hair Sheep originated in Maine in the 1970’s after Michael Piel began experimenting with hair sheep from the Caribbean.  Katahdin’s are hardy and low maintenance.  They are a sturdy breed that thrives even on poor to mid-quality pasture.  Quite docile and easy to handle, they adapt well to rotating pasture systems.  The ewes lamb easily and are good mothers.  Being hair sheep, no shearing is needed.

We became shepherds with nothing more than an electric net fence and charger, Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep, and an abundance of over-confidence.  But we did become shepherds, and most of the sheep survived (except the ones pre-destined for our freezer), and we did eliminate much of the mowing.  Was it an absolute time-savings?  No.  But the trade in work time was about even, and it became much more fun. 

Since we move the portable fencing to create new pasture areas every 1-2 weeks, the sheep don’t try to escape.  They seem to know that greener pastures are soon to come.  Because we walk through and clean up the greater pasture area regularly there aren’t accumulations of detritus that the sheep could use to harm themselves as can happen in fixed pasture enclosures.  We sleep right through the nights during lambing season in our nice, warm beds.  Katahdin’s rarely need intervention during lambing.  Since our sheep usually lamb just before dawn, we help those who are taking longer once it is light out.    Positioning the lambing barn so we can see into it with binoculars from our bedroom window helped. We know when we need to go out and when we can stay inside and let nature take its course.

About that barn, you might want to build one.  Ours is an 8×12 foot three-sided shed that includes an enclosed area for hay storage.  We use red farm gates when we need separate out a portion for lambing.  The barn is surrounded by a 50×50 foot permanent wire fence creating a winter pen. 

Several other things are useful while the sheep are on pasture.  We purchased a small metal Quonset-style hut for pasture shelter.  Flipped on its back it slides easily into each new pasture rotation.  The other pasture item we built came after our vet sarcastically said, “You all make sheep farming seem hard!”  Seems he didn’t cotton to spending an hour chasing lambs and catching them with a flying tackle.  We made our catch pen out of two cattle panels bent in half and held together with zip ties and bungee cords. It moves easily wherever we need it.

Are you tired of all that mowing?  Are you ready to raise sheep instead?  Here is a web site with handy information about Katahdin sheep to get you started:  https://www.katahdins.org/

Dream a little dream with us this winter.

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