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Amazing Katahdins

June 16th, 2013 by Joyce

Probably we all feel like our Katahdins are amazing sheep; that’s why we continue to produce them. I just want to affirm their attributes. Like much of the country, the summer of 2012 was brutal on our livestock. But I literally shook my head in wonder at the performance of my flock. Let me tell you about it.

According to a statement made to me, my flock management is non-management. I only have about 15 ewes and leave the ram with them year ’round. I expect the ewes to produce every 7 to 9 months. I wean the ram lambs and have a separate pasture for them, but the ewe lambs remain with the flock. I don’t vaccinate or medicate except to treat parasites in the lambs if FAMACHA or other symptoms dictate it. I do trim hooves as needed and provide sheep mineral. Otherwise, the flock receives the same rations year round: grazing as much of the year as possible and alfalfa hay in the winter.

I was excited last spring to have a new pasture to graze. Our neighbors, an elderly couple, had sold their small herd of cattle and gave us access to their now unused pasture. Most of my lambs came in January and February and by the third week of March I was able to move the flock to the new pasture. I use electric netting and move the sheep daily. I was envisioning a wonderful year of plentiful forage. Then the drought came. The grass was not regrowing. In places where there was a little forage, there was no shade. I moved the flock to the edge of the woods where they could find shade from the extreme heat, but there was little forage. The overgrown weeds and briers made the daily move of the fence exhausting. Sometimes there was so little forage that I moved the fence twice in a day. One of my older ewes began to show weight loss. On the first of July, I admitted defeat and moved the flock back to the home lot. Thankfully, I was able to find a source of round bales of clover hay. Actually the bales contained mostly grass but the sheep were grateful nevertheless.

Finally the rains came and in mid-September I was able to move the flock back on grass and rotate them again until the end of December. I had no way of knowing that the ewes had been carrying lambs through this brutal summer, but the last two weeks in November I was greeted with new lambs almost every morning and evening when I checked on the flock! There were mostly twins. One ewe who had had triplets in February, gave us twins this time. The older ewe that had shown the weight loss only produced a single. I don’t hold that against her. The lambs were of smaller weights than usual, 5 1/2 to 7 pounds, when we usually get 8 to 10 pounds. One young ewe (10 1/2 months old) produced a 4 pound lamb. Even with the ram always available, its rare that a ewe lambs before one year of age. I have to say, this young mother has took excellent care of that little one and he grew like a weed. The remainder of the yearlings lambed the end of January to the first of February. They would have conceived in August while on the poor hay but still had good production.

Here’s the point of this story. Most of the ewes ewes would have conceived mid-April, after lambing in January and February. They had a month of good forage which stimulated estrus, then two months of good forage before carrying the lamb through three months of extreme heat and poor forage. Just before lambing, forage was good again, eight to nine months after they had previously lambed. Those lambs may have had smaller birth weights but they are grew just as well as previous crops of lambs and their 60 day weights came in right on target.

This May (2013), my ewes again presented me with a bonus crop of lambs, including a set of triplets. Some of these ewes lambed only 6 1/2 months after the last crop. We have abundant forage so far this year and all are doing well.

In spite of what someone might think of the management, or lack thereof, of the sheep, the bottom line is: Katahdins are amazing!

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