Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The calm before the storm

It's been 142 days since the rams were put in with the ewes for breeding last fall. That means lambs could arrive at any time. Once they start, they could come fast and furious or births could be spread out like last year. I prefer the latter.

I'll have lambs sired by three different rams and three different breed types. The purebred Katahdin lambs will be sired by Marcus, a home-raised ram that became my Katahdin stud two years ago after his sire died of a skull fracture, the result of fighting with another ram. The other ram also died.

The Katahdin "Mules" will be sired by B-ears, a 1/2 Katahdin x 1/4 Hampshire x 1/4 Suffolk ram. In the UK, Mule denotes a cross between a lowland ram (usually a Blueface Leicester) and a upland (or hill) ewe, usually a Scottish Blackface. My Mules will be 3/4 Katahdin x 1/4 Blackface.

The purpose of introducing the blackface breeds to my Katahdin flock is to improve size and growth without compromising fitness traits. The Mule lambs make better market lambs than purebred Katahdins. What remains to be seen is what kind of ewes the Mules will make. I think with proper selection, they will be just as good as the Katahdin ewes, but bigger and able to produce bigger lambs.

My first "Dairy" Katahdins will be born this year. They will be sired by Spooner, a 5/8 Lacaune x 3/8 Katahdin ram. Early last fall, my Dad and I drove to northwest Wisconsin to get Spooner. The Spooner Research Station is the only dairy sheep research station in the U.S. They have been crossing Katahdin with Lacaune in hopes of developing a dairy hair sheep. Spooner is a product of the crossbreeding project.

The Lacaune is a French breed of dairy sheep. They have a light covering of wool. Their milk contains a higher percentage of butter fat as compared to the East Friesian, the other breed of dairy sheep. The purpose of introducing the Lacaune breed to my Katahdin flock is to improve milk production (quantity and quality), thus weaning weights -- without compromising fitness traits.

100 lbs. in 100 days is my goal for market lambs.

I have high hopes for Spooner's offspring. His dam, a 3/4 Katahdin ewe produced 700 lbs. of milk during her lactation. He had a 30-day weaning weight of 28 lbs. He was raised on milk replacer after being separated from his dam at 24 hours of age. Spooner seems to know he's special. He's a big baby. He likes to be fussed over and doesn't like being by himself. He jumps over gates to be with other sheep. His current pen mate is B-ears. Fortunately, B-ears is not adversarial to the younger buck.

My hope is that both the Mules and Dairy Katahdins will shed as well as the purebred Katahdins. Essentially, they will be F2's. It usually takes three generations of crossing to eliminate the need for shearing. But since the two breeds I'm using have bare bellies and a short covering of wool, I believe most of the F2's will shed. Of course, I will select the better shedding lambs for breeding.

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