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Article by Karen Kenagy

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How we promote Katahdins in the Northwest...

By Karen Kenagy

Until recently the Katahdin has been a little known breed in Oregon. As a breeder running about 60 head of Hamps for about 30 yrs I had never heard of them. My short experience with hair sheep was with Barbados Blackbellies. These pretty brown and black sheep shed and had very tasty meat but little of it; they were slow growing and got footrot as bad as the Hamps. They also loved to sail with great ease over the stalls, the fences and even me!

Some of our Katahdin flock.
Some of our Katahdin flock.

I first saw Katahdins at the Oregon State fair about 10 yrs ago. I also saw St Croix. Coming from raising big meat sheep the size and muscling in the Katahdins appealed to me more. And the colors looked like fun! I bought my first ewes from a breeder who talked to me there.

I quickly came to realize Katahdins were so much less work! The lambs got up at birth with a real desire and ability to live even if I wasnít there. They didnít get the chronic footrot I still struggled to control in the Hamps. I searched out more breeders and soon had only Katahdins.

Most meat sheep breeders in the a NW still view hair sheep as small, slow growing sheep deserving little or no attention.

We are working hard to change this perception by improving size, growth rates and pounds of lamb weaned per ewe. Breeders also want a ewe that has good enough conformation to travel well and live a long productive life.

Pens of Katahdins at the Oregon State Fair
Pens of Katahdins at the Oregon State Fair

In order to show what Katahdins can do we have to get them out in the public eye. A great place we have found is our local County and Oregon State Fairs. People are quite interested in going to fairs, seeing the animals and talking to the breeders. Itís a great place to educate the general public about our easy care breed.

As our sheep have greatly improved over the last few years in size and growth rates while retaining their wonderful productivity and maternal qualities we are getting serious attention from the meat breeders who come to the fairs.

We donít attempt to change our breed to conform to current ideas of what a show sheep should look like. We want to show the Katahdin sheep as what it is, a great maternal sheep that doesnít need shearing. We take them from the flock with nothing but a good washing to display them at their best.

Katahdin ewe with twin lambs
Katahdin ewe with twin lambs

Oregon continues to have growing rural areas where people want to have a few sheep as well as serious breeders with established meat markets.

There are also big commercial breeders who run 1,500 to 5,000 sheep on the big grass seed fields in the Willamette Valley or the larger, drier acreages in Eastern Oregon.

The problems with lack of market, labor and expense of shearing has caused a lot of sheep breeders to take a serious look at Katahdins.

When I first brought Katahdins to the County fair I was met with scorn from some breedersÖ tails! How can any association choose to keep tails, how can they ever be a commercial ewe, they will get wool maggots! My protests that they didnít have wool were ignored for a couple years.

Educating established breeders takes time. It also takes more than talk; it takes evidence in the form of an animal that displays proof of the claims we make for Katahdins.

Winning Katahdin Rams at the Oregon State Fair
Winning Katahdin Rams at the Oregon State Fair

By showing Sept/Oct lambs we prove Katahdins breed out of season. We also bring a couple yearlings with their July lambs; this attracts a lot of attention as they play on the straw bales. People are impressed at how fast they have grown and that Katahdins have twins so young and do it on pasture by themselves.

By showing Jan/Feb ram and ewe lambs in Aug at 150# and 110# we show that Katahdins can have good growth rates on mostly grass.

Display board that we take to the Fairs
Display board that we take to the Fairs

By putting up a display of pictures we show Katahdins in their winter coats and shedding. We can show their clean bellies, udders and tail areas even in our muddy, wet winters. We can show ewes caring for multiple lambs, young ewes being great mothers, and big growthy meat lambs grazing grass.

By using a colorful hair pelt in the display we can show another desirable product of Katahdins. The picture display as well as the baby lambs attracts much attention and people pick up KHSI brochures as well as our own with numbers and websites of where additional Katahdin information can be found. We educate lots of people during this time.

Showing Katahdins at the Clackamas County Fair
Showing Katahdins at the Clackamas County Fair

We went from showing in the Primitive breed class at County for about five years to being Featured Breed with over forty Katahdins from Oregon and Washington attending. We have worked hard to keep enough sheep and breeders to keep the Katahdin class at the Oregon State Fair.

There are disease risks when you show, we try to minimize this by avoiding nose to nose contacts, testing for disease and running all animals through a footbath on arrival home.

Some of our ewe lambs out on pasture.
Some of our ewe lambs out on pasture.

Katahdins are friendly and in a short time are asking to be petted, this can pass on germs but any time you step out to grow, change or provide education there are some costs. We have found that the benefits to the breed far outweigh the risks and are willing to continue to use these great opportunities to educate the growing number of people interested in this great breed.

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Last revised: April 29, 2008