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Starting with Sheep this year

 
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Hello All,

I started adding livestock to my little farm last year.  I now have hens (layers) and rabbits.  My family loves lamb and I have become interested in raising my own.  I am currently planning on starting with lambs in the spring.  I am in zone 7B and I am curious what breeds might do best in this area.  I am looking for parasite-resistant hair breeds.  I am curious if anyone else in this same type of climate has favorites or has had success with these animals.  So far I have noticed in my local papers that people tend to prefer Katahdin's in this area as there are many of them for sale.  My plan is the buy a ram and ewe with a few weaned lambs to get me started.  

I am considering:

St. Croix:
I hear they are smaller carcasses but, high-quality meat.  I don't mind the small carcass as we have a small family.  I also hear they are big weed eaters and highly resistant to parasites.)

Dorper:
This appears to be a popular breed but, I don't see any for sale near me.  I guess this is the Angus of sheep big carcass good meat.

Barbados Black Belly:
Ok, I fell in love with these as soon as I saw them the first time.  I know they are slow to grow and have a smaller carcass but, I also hear the meat is top-notch.  They are also parasite resistant and they breed year long producing many twins.

Katahdin:
This appears to be the favored sheep in this area.  From what I know they are hardy animals, adaptable and good mothers.  They produce a lean, meaty corpse that isn't as gamey as some other breeds.  I have to admit they didn't jump out to me as the 'right' breed but, they do seem practical.

If you have any other breeds that I should consider or have an opinion on the ones I have mentioned please, let me know.

Wynne

 
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Location: Eddington, Maine
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Hi Wynne,
I have no experience with sheep, but I do a lot of reading and this is what I have gleaned from people with far more experience than I have.

Its ok to try different breeds, but if you are looking for what does well in your area... look at other people keeping that thing. It doesn't matter if its plants or animals, if there are a lot of people raising that things in your area, there is a reason. Probably that it does well :) and maybe that there are enough people who want to buy that thing, that it is worth the hassle.

All that to say, you probably want to start with the Katahdin sheep because you know they do well. After you have some experience with sheep under your belt, then might be a good time to branch out into other breeds. They might do just as well.
 
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Matt McSpadden wrote:Its ok to try different breeds, but if you are looking for what does well in your area... look at other people keeping that thing. It doesn't matter if its plants or animals, if there are a lot of people raising that things in your area, there is a reason. Probably that it does well :) and maybe that there are enough people who want to buy that thing, that it is worth the hassle.




Wynne,
I agree with what Matt said about looking in your local area to get sheep.

I live in sheep country though I have never had sheep.

We had goats when we had our homestead.

One of the best things that I did was to make friends with "the goat lady", who was a very knowledgeable person who would answer my questions.

So my best suggestion would be to get to know the local sheep breeders and others that own sheep so that you will have someone to ask questions and to go to for help.

Best wishes to you for getting sheep.
 
pollinator
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If I ever have sheep again, it will be Katahdin.   No shearing is a big plus.   They also tend to have decent browsing habits similar to some goats, but are much easier to contain.   They lamb easily with very little help and are good strong mothers.   If you choose your ram carefully,  they can be pretty easy to handle as well.  I had a flock of up to 30 ewes at any given time for many years,  they were easy to handle and manage.   Many never needed hoof trims,  that was a big goal of mine in my breeding/keeping choices for young ewes.   At any rate, none needed it more than once a year.   Great sheep.  Also nice mild flavor.  
 
pollinator
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You're in a similar to me in a sense.  I'm going to start with Katahdin sheep (both ewes and ram).  Eventually I would like to get a Dorper ram.  Not because I want Dorper/Katahdin crosses to breed, but because, at least from the reading I've done, that produces some of the biggest carcasses in the resulting lambs.  This is what is called a "terminal sire" type of setup.  None of the offspring are intended to be kept around past their normal slaughter age.  The other advantage of this is you get so-called "hybrid vigor" in that you typically see faster growth to a larger overall size compared to the growth you would see in either breed if kept as a pure bred.  Often they will be more resilient to various stressors too compared to pure breeds.

But I can't easily get a Dorper ram right now, so I'm going to take what I can reasonably get.

Generally, if a given breed is predominant in your area there is probably a good reason.  That is not a reason to ignore other breeds, as it's totally possible that the popularity of that given breed is more due to inertia than sound reason.  Or it may be that the popular breed works better in the systems of your neighbors, and it may or may not work so well with you system.  But, before bucking the local trend I'd do some research to see if there's a compelling reason for that trend.  That could be due to local parasite species, climate considerations, or something else.
 
pollinator
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Been raising sheep since 1999.  Of the breeds mentioned:

St. Croix have a skinny carcass, are very heat and worm resistant, but are flighty, which can make them more of a challenge to handle than a calm sheep.  

Barbados have a skinny carcass, are very heat and worm resistant, but are very flighty to the point of being a challenge to herd with a border collie.  

Dorpers have a heavy, meaty carcass, have some heat tolerance, are the most susceptible to worms, but the calmest disposition of the four breeds being discussed.  

Katahdin (which has St.Croix in its ancestry) is an all-rounder with  a decent carcass shape, good heat and worm resistance, and have intermediate flightyness.

My sheep are mostly katahdin with katahdin rams, but I’ll bring in a dorper ram when I want to breed for a heavier carcass or a St. Croix ram when I need more worm resistance.  I also cull for excessive flightyness
 
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Figure out what the closest successful sheep farm to you has and get that breed.  That is where you should always start.  You can always cross breed in different genetics or if you start small, which you should, you can just process your ewes and start over if you really don't like the breed.

You can breed wool sheep to shed so you don't have to shear them.  Cross with a hair sheep ram to get a head start.  If you have to pay to get them sheared for a few years, you will surely learn valuable things from the shearer.
 
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