Thursday, August 30, 2012

Virtual Farm Tour :: Katahdin Hair Sheep

Let me just say this ... our Katahdin Hair Sheep flock is really a work in progress ... but, with that in mind I do think that they will eventually become a slightly bigger part of our operation than I envisioned. Lamb and beef are two things that I only have a few times throughout the farmers market season at this point, but I would say that are at least as many or even more people that ask for lamb each week! Plus, I think they fit well with our grazing system and on our farm.

Now, why do I call them a work in progress? Well ... let me just say that they are not exactly trained to the electric fence yet (including the electric netting). This is our second year with the sheep and I can't exactly say that we have been rotationally grazing them, but I can say they cover the acres very well and do graze on different species of forage than the cows normally do. From reading other people's accounts on raising sheep I think I just need to really focus on getting them used to the hot wires.

As I mentioned the demand has been fairly high for lamb meat and we have not had any problem selling what few cuts we have. In fact I've had quite a few people interested in ordering whole lambs and that will probably be something we begin in the next year or so, but for now I like the idea of getting as many people hooked on our lamb meat as possible! The downside though is that the way we raise our lambs it is very seasonal market. With our spring born lambs and fall processing we really only have them available for a couple months each year.

One option to spread the availability out a little bit would be to have fall born lambs and winter them over on hay, but I'm not sure if I like that idea because there would be extra hay costs incurred that don't exist with spring lambing. Which makes me think that selling whole lambs and taking reservations throughout the year for the fall would be the best possible market strategy for the farm.

I am pretty sure that there will be sheep and lambs on the farm for years to come (as long as we get all the wrinkles ironed out), but there are a few things I would like to try/explore. As I mentioned I may try some different breeding schedules, but I would also like to look more closely into the St. Croix breed if I can find some. I will also admit that I need to learn quite a bit more about the different cuts and how to prepare them! All in all though I'm pleased with the sheep.


Rich said...

Have you ever tried using some 14 ga. steel wire (it's about the size of baling wire) to train your sheep?

I've strung temporary fences of 14 ga. wire across wheat fields that are being grazed by cattle, and it carries enough of a jolt over a long run of fence to make bulls jump back when they touch it.

And, it is flexible enough that I can roll it up on a reel when I want to move it (I don't move it every day, so it might wear you out if you're moving it daily).

The steel wire does have its problems and it is more work to put up and take down compared to polywire, but it might help get those sheep trained since it might push through their hair and shock them better than the poly wire or electronet.

Ethan Book said...

I have actually watched the sheep walk through four wires of 14 ga. when the fence was as hot as it can be. I don't know if it's the small hooves that means less ground or what the deal is, but I'll just keep plugging away.

Kristin said...

Odd. My hair and hair/wool crosses don't get out unless they are pushed though the fence OR they don't have enough to eat, assuming the fence is consistently charged. Just some things to consider.

And perhaps you read about the St. Croix in Greg Judy's book? My two cents: any hair sheep can be a great grazer AND parasite resistant with high nutrition which can only be achieved with "mob grazing" (read: moved at least once a day). We FINALLY have enough pasture and my lambs this year have never seen hay. They have grown to their mother's size or larger in 6 months, some in as little as 5. I am truly amazed what good grass management can do! Rosy red eyelids too! We just could not do this with hay.

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