What is a Katahdin Sheep?
The purpose of this page is to explain a bit about Katahdin Sheep. A lot of people mistake the breed for goats because of their short hair. But, they are not related to goats at all. If you’re interested in learning about the breed, read on. If you still have questions when you’re done let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them. I’ll start with the pronunciation – k ah T AH dih n
The development of this species began in the mid-1950s when Michael Piel, a native of Maine, imported a small herd of hair sheep from the Caribbean. After getting inspired by a 1956 article in the National Geographic, Piel started to work on combining the coat, proliferation, and robustness of the sheep from the Virgin Islands to the desirable meat and rate of growth of sheep species present in the US. He began to experiment with crosses between the hair sheep, and several British species, especially Suffolk. After nearly 20 years of making crosses, the resulting hybrids started showing results.
Consequently, Piel selected individual animals possessing the combination of desired characteristics and eventually gathered a flock of sheep called Katahdin, so named after the highest mountain in Maine, Mount Katahdin. In mid-1970, the Wiltshire Horn, an English species that sheds hair, was incorporated into the flock to add size and improve the quality of the animal for consumption while also circumventing shearing.
The neck of a Katahdin sheep is strong, medium in length, broad at the base of the shoulders. The chest is wide and deep. On the ram, it is equal to the hind quarters while the female’s is slightly smaller. The back is curved like a moon while the legs have a considerable amount of muscle on them.
The three most common colors present in the Katahdin sheep are cinnamon color, black or pinto, no matter if it is uniform or spotted. Black spots are not accepted, except moles or type black belly coloration.
Adaptability: The Katahdin have shown great adaptability. They come from breeds that originate from an eclectic mix of places – from the Caribbean and to the state of Maine. In cold weather, they develop a layer of very thick winter hair that is lost during the warmer seasons. The soft fur and other adaptive characteristics allow them to tolerate heat and moisture well. The Katahdin are also significantly more tolerant to parasites than other varieties of sheep and if handled with care, require only minimal treatment for parasites.
Temperament: The Katahdin sheep are docile and, therefore, easier to handle than other breeds of sheep. They exhibit a moderate instinct to cluster in herds.
Size: The weight of a Katahdin sheep while mature, standing and in good physical condition usually ranges from 120 to 160 pounds. The average weight of newborn twins is about 8 pounds.
Fertility: Ewes and rams exhibit early puberty and usually have a long productive life. Mature sheep usually have twins, triplets or quadruplets in order of decreasing probability. The rams are proactive aggressive and generally fertile throughout the year, and as such can fertilize the first cycle of a large number of ewes which are exposed. We have witnessed this at Ten Mile Farm several times with the Ram impregnating nine ewes in two days in 2014.
Maternity: The Katahdin sheep show a strong and protective maternal instinct. It usually gives birth without assistance and have enough milk for their young. It rarely rejects its young.
The Coat: A coat of Katahdin varies individually in the length and texture between seasons and can be of any color or combination of colors. It generally consists of coarse fibers on the outside and a base of fine cowhide fibers that thicken and lengthen when the days are shorter and the temperatures drop. In this natural cover and some of the hairs fall naturally when the temperature rises and the days get longer leaving a summer coat is short and smooth.
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