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Some basic sheep questions


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I've been reading a bit about sheep. I've been looking specifically at Katahdin sheep. They sound like the right sheep for me based on what I've read so far.


I read that sheep in general can overeat. I had wanted to put just a few or so sheep out front. So what if the grass is long in spots; it would be a pasture then, not a lawn. Would that be too lush for sheep? Is it true that they would overeat and have problems as a result?


About how long do sheep live?


Any comments on this particular breed of sheep? Here's some of what drew me to them:


Katahdin are hardy, adaptable, low maintenance sheep that produce superior lamb crops and lean, meaty carcasses. They do not produce a fleece and therefore do not require shearing. They are medium-sized and efficient, bred for utility and for production in a variety of management systems. Ewes have exceptional mothering ability and lamb easily; lambs are born vigorous and alert. The breed is ideal for pasture lambing and grass/foragebased management systems. They have demonstrated wide adaptability. They were derived from breeds that originated in the Caribbean and British Islands and the state of Maine was their original home. In cold weather, they grow a very thick winter coat, which then sheds during warm seasons. Their smooth hair coat and other adaptive characteristics allow them to tolerate heat and humidity well. Katahdins are also significantly tolerant of internal and external parasites and if managed carefully require only minimal parasite treatment. Katahdins are docile so are easily handled. They exhibit moderate flocking instinct.


Also, what type of flocking instincts are for what type of BC's? What I mean is, what type of flocking instincts are best for a newbie BC, and what flocking instincts are best for BC's who are very good at herding?



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Don't know a thing about Katahdin - might recognize one if I saw one, but wouldn't bet on it. But in general, sheep on pasture aren't going to overeat enough to cause a problem. Usually, the problem is having too much grain - especially if they aren't used to it. There is a vaccine you can give - normally to lambs, that helps prevent enterotoxemia (overeating). Sometimes, in the srping, when the grass is really long and lush, they can get grass tetany - think it's a magnesium problem, if I remember right - but I'm not sure how common of a problem it is - I've never actually seen anything have it except a cow in a film talking about it in a class at Purdue. Avoid pastures with a lot of alfalfa, clover, that sort of thing. Clover especially can cause bloat. For the most part, sheep aren't that difficult. Talk to an extension agent or one of the local old farmers that has sheep, and they can tell you what works well in your area. You might have to re-seed over your existing area to have an "ideal" or even better pasture, or you might have to supplement with hay and/or grain.


Most sheep aren't lucky enough to die of old age, but my experience with some of my "favorites" is a range from 10-15 years. I'd imagine it will vary with breed and size - seems like smaller ewes lived longer than large rams. That's not saying the ewes will be producing lambs that long. Usually, by 10, they start having problems - if not before. I've had some old girls out here until they were 15-ish, but usually they hadn't had a lamb in at least 2-3 years - or at least not a successful lambing if they did. Rams seem to breed as long as they can mount a ewe. If they still have the strength to get up there, they get the job done. Last summer, I lost an old ram - think he was 11 - and I'd used him just that spring for breeding.


I don't know anything about herding - except that my Rambouillets are awful for beginner dog and an owner that knows nothing. My guess is, a breed that flocks very well that isn't going to be overly aggressive towards a dog would be your best bet to start out on, then for more advanced work, some of the flightier breeds would certainly add more challenge. My Rambouillets flock well - but they'd rather eat a dog than look at one. My daughter has Karakuls, and they just simply don't do dogs. They do everything from freak and scatter to scream "DIE DOG DIE!" as they attack (got a few Rambo's like that, too). Now I have heard people mention starting with "dog broke" stock - which would be wonderful - I just haven't found any, and having limited space, any new sheep have to fit my breeding program (sheep came before dog).


You might have trouble finding Katahdins - around IN area they're scarce and from what I've heard, expensive when found. Also, before selecting a breed, if you're going to breed/raise any lambs beyond your own use, consider what markets are available for the type you're interested in.


That's my two-cents. Don't know if it's worth that much or not, but hope it helps or else gets someone upset enough to answer that knows more. Good Luck!

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I posted a few questions about Kathadins a while back and received some very helpful answers. They might turn up using the search function. The best advice I got was to go with a breed proven to do well in my area. I now have Dorsets and am quite happy.

My hay farmer is helping me get started. He wants to cut back his flock and has given me some good deals.

I bought 3 ewes off him for $300. All are preggers, one had a single ram, one had twin ewes and one is yet to pop. He is raising the lambs for me since I don't have very much experience. He did the tails for me too. Ask around, maybe you can find a mentor.

I have a pretty little mini pony now too. I hijacked Jessicas thread about her pup to post a pic of him. Maybe a mini could mow....

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Overeating disease is more of a grain fed sheep thing. But it's usual to vaccinate against the culprit regardless - the vaccine is easy to find in a form that protects against clostridium "c" and "d" and tetanus - called CD-T. Tetanus is kind of no-brainer especially if you have horses around or have had horses around in the past.


The Katadhin is one of those breeds of sheep that was supposed to be the be-all end-all answer to every sheep raiser's dream. They are a terrific all-round sheep, very low care, but a lot depends on the flock they come from as to whether they live up to the advertising.


Honestly, that's true of ANY sheep breed. I had some cross bred wool sheep that fit the description you posted except for the medium size and shedding part, of course. I'm eight generations out from them now and I'm losing some of those characteristics and stabilizing others.


However, I like Katadhins for a beginner's sheep if you can get nice ones (not culls) from someone you trust and who will mentor you.


My rule of thumb is don't do research on the internet for an appropriate breed for your area, go ask the local sheep people. Try to find out when the local sheep sale is, go hang out, and see what you find out. There's a ton of hair sheep breeds and hybrids in Texas - there's a lot raised for trophy hunting that I've hardly ever seen anywhere else.


As far as handling, sheep are really what you make them. Some breeds tend to be harder to handle for various reasons. Every breed has its challenges. The key is to find someone who cares about their sheep, and whose sheep are doing well in your area, and learn as much as you can.

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The condition commonly called overeater's disease is usually but not always seen in lambs on high concetrate diets. It is in fact an enterotoxemia caused by Clostridium perfringens that has nothing to do with actually overeating. The bacterium multiplies rapidly under some conditions, producing toxins in the gut of the lambs, which are rapidly fatal. While a high-concentrate diet produces conditions that favor the development of the bacteria, it can happen regardless of diet.


That said, I have never seen a case of Clostridia enterotoxemia in an adult sheep at pasture in 15 years of working with sheep. I have, however, seen it in lambs on pasture.


To add to the confusion, sheep that have sudden access to large amounts of grain or other starchy feeds without a long period of acclimation can develop acidosis, which is in fact caused by over eating. The rumen becomes unable to digest the feed, which ferments, releasing acid into the bloodstream causing dehydration, kidney damage, and in some cases, death.


Katahdin sheep are wonderful in many ways. But you have to realize that the information you quoted is put out by the breed association and is promotional in nature. Many of the assertations that they make are not backed up by research, nor would they be accepted by experts on sheep production.


For instance, much has been made of the claim that Katahdin sheep are resistant to parasites. However, this has only been shown to be true on their home farms. The experiment I saw had the breeders bring in sheep from off the farm as the control group, and lo and behold the sheep that had been living there on the farm were better able to cope with the pathogens there than the new sheep were. Anyone who has moved sheep from one farm to another would have predicted that.


Additionally, Katahdin carcasses are generally poorly muscled, and not desirable to many markets. One possible exception is the East coast market of immigrants. This market, by the way, is huge.


What Katahdins are great at is mothering. I have shepherded a flock of Katahdin crosses, and they are wonderful at lambing time. They generally have a good milk supply, take good care of their lambs, and raise them well.

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Thanks to all of you for taking the time to write out replies. I'm learning more every day.


I'd like it if you could recommend a basic book that will also answer the following questions:


---What sheep need to eat (to see if my lawn would do, if not, what and how much supplementation would be needed).


---How you go about putting one in the freezer. Also, there are several people in my area who raw feed, so there's a market here. I guess I should know what the laws are for selling chunks of lamb to people for their dogs. Is there any reason I couldn't butcher them myself?


I'm not sure what other questions need asking, so a general book on sheep would be helpful.


Thanks again!

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I don't know of a book that does a good job of explaining how to calculate feed rations (although one may exist. The book I use the most is Henderson's Veterinary Book for Sheep Farmers). The best sources I've found are online (sheepandgoat.com) and, here in NYS, Cornell (http://www.sheep.cornell.edu/sheep/). I also use the various experts at our local Cornell Cooperative extension offices for help.


You can slaughter your sheep for your own consumption but not for others'. A good source of information about the various options for marketing sheep/lambs can be found at http://sheepgoatmarketing.info/. (They also have a poster that explains humane halal slaughter.)



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I love the Storey Guide to Raising Sheep. It's available in most book stores even, and a lot of feed/farm stores (Tractor Supply for instance) carry it. It's a quick read and covers most of the basics.


Between that, and my pasture books, and the internet, I've never had need to buy another book on sheep, though there's many nice ones out there that would probably save my having to post to Sheep-L half the time. :rolleyes:


One thing to remember when you get advice on the internet, and even from different books, is that there are wildly differing methods of raising sheep (as there are with any livestock, really). I once bought some ewes that looked wonderful - big and nicely conditioned, just right to breed, nice udders, triplets that alternated twins and trips every year. What I didn't notice was that they were standing in lush knee-high pasture and there was a trough full of feed where they obviously spent a lot of time (dirt torn up all around it). And the farmer spent a lot of time explaining what he was feeding them and how much and it was a lot!


I put them on nice pasture and they got thinner and thinner. Also, they wouldn't come up at feeding time - they expected me to bring it to THEM. They were not dog broken, so it was just loads of fun collecting them every day and Patrick finally gave up, penned them up with a trough of food and some hay, and left them there. They've been happy as clams ever since, though they are leaving on the next trailer out of here.


A similiar thing happened to me the first year we had sheep. I bought some sheep from someone who assured me that they were highly worm resistant, that in fact they rarely wormed. What I failed to notice was the fact that they rotated these sheep about every three days across two hundred acres of lush chicken-litter-enriched pasture and followed them with their CATTLE herd. It makes a huge difference. Those were in fact the worst sheep I've ever had for internal parasites. I picked up some super bugs from those sheep and now only one (maybe two) anthelmetics work here.


So, be aware of the limitations of your place and your own personal sheep-keeping philosophies and take that into account when collecting advice. I've really come to respect Bill F's advice on various matters - I always felt that his notions matched mine more or less and that feeling has only grown over the years. Sure enough, I bought a couple of rams from him last year and they melded with my operation perfectly. In fact, they do better here than most of the sheep that were born here! :D I remember laughing about the fact that they eat stuff that my sheep refuse to touch - young broom straw, for instance - and that I basically "flushed" them on the fall growth, no grain.


You can learn a lot from people who come from a different background, too, of course, but nothing can really beat having the help of someone who has a similiar (and successful) approach to raising sheep.

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I'd like to add two more points.


For the small flock owner there is a big advantage to having hari sheep over wool sheep; they don't need to be shorn. Finding someone who can do a good job and is willing to sheer a small number of sheep can be very difficult.


Hair sheep are said to have a mild flavor compared to most of the wool breeds. How they are fed is supposed to alter this some too. Having stated the claims I can say that our Katahdins do have a mild flavor (compared to what we've had from the grocery store); however, we do have wool sheep of our own to make a flavor comparison.


Based upon our experience with Katahdins they are great mothers. We haven't had to pull a lamb and most are very good mothers from the start.


Jordi44: There are 27 Katahdin Hair Sheep International members listed in Indiana and another 27 in OH.




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I just got this from one of my customers (Caucasian)?.



?I gave some of your lamb to a buddy of mine a while back. He just told me how much he liked it - and by the way, his wife is a food critic! If you're ever looking to unload some, I'll take as much as you can grow. Please keep me on your list. ;-D?



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I had lamb a few times while I was in London. The leg of lamb was very nice - mild & tender, but the other lamb I didn't care for at all. I just didn't like the funky taste.


I would not eat any sheep I raised unless it tasted like that leg of lamb in London. Hubby would, and so would Boyden, but I wouldn't.


Thanks again to all of you for the book recommendations and links and stories. It all helps. Mark, glad to hear your lamb was so yummy! Their mild flavor was one more thing about Katahdins that caught my eye.


Oh, there is a Katahdin person within a decent drive but they say "no pets & no smoking", and they charge a consultaton fee. Bah! :rolleyes: Boyden doesn't go, then I's don't go.

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