Origin of Katahdin Sheep Breed
The development of the breed began in the late 1950’s with the importation of a small number of haired sheep from the Caribbean. Michael Piel of Maine had several thousand sheep at the time and felt that “progress in selection for traits important to the production of meat would be greatly enhanced by the elimination of wool as a major factor for selection.” His goal was to combine the hair coat, prolificacy, and hardiness of the Virgin Island sheep with the meat conformation and rate of growth of wool breeds. He began to experiment with crosses between the hair sheep and various British breeds, especially Suffolk. After almost 20 years of crossing the resulting hybrids and selecting individuals with the desired combination of traits, Piel eventually collected a flock of ewes he called KATAHDINS, named after Mt. Katahdin in Maine. During the mid 1970’s the Wiltshire Horn, a shedding breed from England, was incorporated into the flock to add size and improve carcass quality.
From this original flock, new breeders have been able to expand the number of Katahdin sheep in North America and many other countries, and select carefully for hair coat, carcass quality, and reproductive efficiency. In 1986, a group of Katahdin Sheep breeders got together and Katahdin Hair Sheep International (KHSI) was formed.
Katahdin sheep display many desirable economic traits. In order to scientifically document and test these traits, Katahdin breeders have been involved in several experimental trials.
Selection Traits for the Katahdin Breeding Stock
Selection for Katahdin breeding stock can be as simple as cute. Who can deny the cute lamb. But what if that lamb is not parasite resistant? What if the lamb has poor growth performance? What is the lamb has other traits that are weak but are highly heritable? Those are the things that we take seriously.
Studies of internal parasite tolerance in Arkansas indicate that Katahdin sheep possess a significantly higher degree of parasite resistance than wool sheep that they were compared to. Heat tolerance trials demonstrated a similar relationship. Other traits being studied at research institutions include out-of-season breeding, prolificacy and fertility factors, carcass quality and meat flavor, and growth performance.
Research also has proven the heritability of traits in sheep. Heritability is a statistic used in the fields of breeding and genetics. It is used to estimate the variation in traits that are due to genetic variation between individuals in that population. So why gamble on cute? Think of the poker player who has the best odds. That is what we want for ourselves and our customers.
West Fork Farms uses NSIP, National Sheep Improvement Program for the genetic data analysis.
West Fork Farms has focused on low input management style and select animals that are superior at producing and raising twins with good growth and meat conformation using a forage-based pasture lambing system. In the south, heat, moisture and lush spring pastures are perfect storm for parasites that will make raising sheep very hard to do and economically challenging. So we have put our eggs in the parasite resistance basket to give our sheep the best chance to survive and thrive in the environment we live in. Finding those animals that have great growth characteristics and parasite resistance are game changers for any breeder.
Our selection for Katahdin breeding stock is for combination of EBV’s from proven genetics and visual appraisal. They have to perform and they have to look good. You can’t measure what you can’t see, so stop guessing on traits that are measurable.