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Upgrading Southdowns

When we started raising sheep on our farm in 2003, I purchased two Southdowns from a local farm. Being able to ‘rent a ram’ to breed was the biggest selling point. Lots of learning happens every year, but especially in those early years. I went to shearing school and learned to shear our sheep. It was the hardest job on the farm and I still have battle scars to prove it.

Those Southdown lambs were born hoping that someone would put a bottle in their mouth to keep them alive. While nursing my first daughter at midnight during lambing, a light switch flipped on in my brain. Enough of trying to keep those lambs alive, I have my own baby to take care of. That summer I bought my first Katahdins.

Out of all my Southdowns ewes, there was one genetic line, which was heartier than the others. That ewe’s lambs lived and thrived every year. I couldn’t quite kick her out the barn door, in favor of all hair sheep. Almost 9 years old, ’Old Wooly’ is still consistently weaning twins each spring She is 1/2 Southdown; 1/2 Katahdin. Her robust lambs always stand out in in the crowd.

Some hair sheep producers would wonder, why I still have wool sheep in my flock. This ewe and her lambs have thrived all these years. Her daughters have continued to raise strong lambs in the same way. Unfortunately, it means that I still do some minimal shearing.

Since the beginning, Katahdins have been a cross between various wool and hair sheep breeds. Still today they have an open flock book, which means that other sheep can be bred to a Katadhin ram to be upgraded to purebred Katahdin. Lambs must pass a hair coat test to ensure that most hair sheds naturally. Otherwise, they haven’t ‘lost their wool’ yet. After several generations, they are 87.5% Katahdin and can be registered.

I really appreciate that Katahdins have an open flock book, because it brings new genetics into the bred. This allows for continued genetic diversity, which is just not found in other breeds of sheep. One main goal is to continually improve the genetics of your flock through breeding selections.


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