Well spring grass has come on like gangbusters here and it seems such a shame to just chop down beautiful green pasture now that we are horse-free, letting it all go to waste! But what to do, what to do?
Since one of us is still coming back from a shoulder injury and surgery, any grass-devouring animal addition couldn’t be too large. We aren’t quite ready for pigs again, and figured out previously that goats were not our favorite milk or meat.
At some point we recollected a further away neighbor who had talked to us about her family raising Katahdin sheep. She shared some lamb chops with us after butchering time, and they were the absolute best we’d ever eaten. Melt in your mouth tender, flavorful, yet mild and not at all gamey. What if we could find some of those lambs close by to eat grass down and raise for fall butcher?
Before we completely committed to anything, we did a little research on sheep and the breed. One of the first pluses we discovered were that Katahdins are a hair sheep that require no shearing or tail docking. They were developed to be hardy in a grass-based forage situation with good across-the-spectrum weather tolerance. Many places called them the best “all-around” hair sheep available in the United States where they’d been developed in Maine, by Michael Piel beginning in the late 1950′s.
While sheep are unique and can have their own particular issues, they definitely seemed like something that should work very well with our existing structures and fencing. All we had to do was find some Katahdin sheep! Luck would have it that there was a breeder quite close, raising Katahdins, who had several ewes for sale with one to two lambs at their side.
The breeder was a definite help as we set about this endeavor, showing us his own set up and letting us admire his flock in a lovely, drool-worthy, state of the art barn he’d built. After lengthy discussion as we looked over the stock he was selling, we finally settled on an ewe with 2 lambs – a ewe lamb and castrated ram lamb or wether.
The best way we felt to get them home safely was in a large dog kennel that neatly fit in the back of J’s Subaru. This vehicle has now hauled pretty much every known farm animal or feed.
We discovered that the ewe who was called Nell, was a supreme master in passive resistance. After we’d carried each of her babies into their new digs, we jury-ed up one of our old calf halters to fit her. She allowed us to lead her perhaps half way to the destination, when she pretty much collapsed first to her front knees, quickly followed by a full rear leg failure. Nell decided she was not moving further despite her babies calling and being within sight. As stated earlier, with one of us still a tad out of commission, we were forced to lay her on her side so we could as gently as possible, push, pull and drag her the rest of the way. When we finally got close enough to the babies, Nell’s legs thankfully reactivated and she proceeded into the barn under her own power.
Fortunately, having the small, dry horse corral attached was perfect, because we were able to restrict them to that the first day or so as they got acclimatized. We used this time to reconfigure some of our fencing, so we could keep them away from some sensitive plantings and to create two separate grazing zones that we can swap them between each week.
Next we slowly introduced them to grass since they’d been strictly on hay at their old home over the winter. Even sheep can eat too much and bloat, like a horse first turned out on pasture can founder. Eventually though they were out doing the job we’d hoped they would as edible lawn mowers.
They still get a little fresh hay daily, have a sheep mineral block available and receive about two cups of sheep ration split between two pans. The lambs usually eat at one and mama Nell at the other. And of course they have access to plenty of fresh clean water.
There’s something satisfying in having the sheep — the peaceful grazing and the relaxing, chewing cud.
They aren’t all over you like a goat would be, but still they look to us for care, and give a happy baaaaa, when we come by to care for them. Maybe it’s not so surprising there’s an affinity as sheep kind of run in the family. In Montana we had an uncle who had a herd of sheep at his place and kept a herding dog up until he passed away. Plus some of my father’s first employment was as a sheep ranch hand when he was a young man. Although he is long since buried, I was lucky to be given the sheep shears he used to use so long ago.
These shears are retired, but it’s not like we’d need them anyway with the Katahdin breed. It’s still nice to know as we dabble in this endeavor that we follow in the foot steps of our close relatives as well as those of our more distant ancestors.
Stay tuned for further “hairy” tales about our sheep adventures!