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What are Katahdin Sheep?

By Kent McGroarty
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Katahdin sheep are a breed of sheep developed in the United States by Maine farmer Michael Piel in the 1950s. Piel imported a small number of hardy sheep with shedding hair from the Virgin Islands to breed with some of his own sheep. His goal was to create a hardy meat sheep that did not need shearing and would graze so that mowing vegetation would be unnecessary. After cross-breeding these sheep for 20 years, Piel had come up with the Katahdin sheep, which are named for Mount Katahdin in Maine.

These sheep are used for meat only. They adapt well to any pasture setting and regularly consume nuisance plants, making them excellent for keeping control of weeds. It is recommended that for every acre of pasture, two to four sheep are raised.

It is relatively inexpensive to take care of Katahdin sheep. For shelter, they require a lean-to or barn with dry bedding. They need a pound of grass per day as well as access to grass pasture, grass hay, water, salt and mineral supplements. Such supplements should be free from copper but should contain selenium.

Katahdin sheep are said to be quite ductile and easy to handle, and their flocking instinct is said to be strong. They do not require shearing, because they grow a thick coat in the winter and shed it during the spring. Their winter coat is excellent for keeping them warm against winter elements, and a smooth hair coat during warm months keeps them cool against summer heat. Their coat is not used for commercial purposes.

Katahdin are high-fertility sheep that can begin breeding when they are 7 months old. Lambs are born after a five-month gestation period, and twins and triplets are not uncommon. Twins generally are born weighing 8 pounds (3.6 kg) but quickly mature. A mature, healthy Katahdin ewe will weigh 120 to 180 pounds (54.4 to 81.6 kg), and a ram weighs 180 to 250 pounds (81.6 to 113.4 kg).

Katahdin sheep give birth easily and are considered good mothers. Lambs usually are weaned after three months. Katahdins can reproduce for at least eight years, with some still reproducing at age 12.

Katahdin meat is quite lean though very meaty. It is considered to have a very mild flavor. Katahdin meat can be used in place of beef or pork and can be eaten hot or cold.

Katahdin sheep manure is highly sought-after by farmers and gardeners. It is richer in nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous than manure from cows or horses. The manure does not need to be aged before use.

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Discussion Comments
By serenesurface — On Apr 16, 2014

@fify-- That's why this breed is called "hair sheep." Or more accurately, Katahdin sheep is a type of hair sheep, there are other types.

I would like to mention that although the natural shedding is one of the most desirable characteristics of this sheep, it does depend on how pure the breed is. The more Katahdin sheep breed with other types of sheep, the more they lose their shedding characteristic. In order for Katahdin to continue shedding, they need to remain hair sheep genetically. So breeders need to keep this in mind. A true Katahdin's coat will shed completely in the summer.

By bluedolphin — On Apr 15, 2014

@fify-- I've never seen the shedding firsthand either, but I heard that the thick and long coat of Katahdin sheep turn into a short coat in the summer.

This happens thanks to their coat having two layers with fine hair making up the bottom layer and thicker hair making up the top. In the summer, the top, thick layer sheds leaving the short layer. This is why shearing is not necessary and Katahdin sheep cope very well with heat. In winter, the thick hairs grow back providing proper protection against cold and rain.

My brother lives in Maine and he has a neighbor who breeds Katahdin sheep. That's how I head about them.

By fify — On Apr 15, 2014

I've never heard of a breed of sheep that sheds its coat in the summer. That's very interesting. I would like to see how the shedding occurs.

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