Saturday, October 21, 2006

What the Heck is a Hair Sheep?

Most people think sheep produce wool. But some don't. This year we purchased our first ewe lambs which are the Kathadin breed. Kathadins are not sheared for wool. They are generally raised for meat. The advantage of Kathadins is that there is much less maintenance required, no shearing. There is really no market for wool in the US anymore so wool sheep are not really kept by producers. They are mostly kept by hobbyists that may want to spin their own wool. There is a growing demand for lamb from ethnic populations in the US. Amazing to me is that when you speak with anyone that has had a meal of lamb, they can remember and recount it for you. Lamb on US dinner tables is still somewhat rare simply because of the cost. The ethnic populations often do their own butchering and one lamb may feed dozens of people at a family celebration.

The Kathadin Association in the US can be found at The picture is one of our ewe lambs, this one happens to be named "Little One", as she was the smallest of the group. You can see that there is no wool.

We bought our first lambs from Susan Schoenian, who works for the University of MD as a small ruminant specialist. She also has her own sheep flock at her farm in Clear Spring, MD. She has traveled extensively and is probably one of the US leading experts on sheep and goats. She maintains two web sites and two blog sites which are Baalands and The Baalands Blog for her farm, as well Shepherd's Notebook Blog and for her work at UM. There is a wealth of information at these sites. She has been very patient with our questions.

I originally got interested in Kathadins after attending a Rural innovation Forum in Winchester, VA. There was an interesting talk by David Redwine from the Scott County Hair Sheep Association in Southwestern Virginia about how they had started raising and marketing Kathadins in Scott County, VA. Then I attended another Farm Innovation meeting in Kingwood, WV where Susan spoke. I would not have met Susan had I not attended the Kingwood meeting.

Ruth has done a great job training the lambs and getting them settled in at the farm, as you can see from the picture. They will call out to her any time they see her. They are nicer to have around the farmstead than cattle. They romp around and enjoy their snacks, much like dogs. In spring 2008 they will have their own first lambs. We'll sell the ewe lambs for breeding stock and the males will likely be sold into the meat market. If a Ram lamb has good characteristics, he can be kept and sold as a breeding Ram. This will be a great venture for the farm.

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