What makes Katahdin sheep unique?
Katahdin sheep are a hair sheep breed developed in the late 1950's at Piel Farm in Maine by Michael Piel and his wife. The goal was to produce a hardy meat sheep that naturally shed and did not require shearing. The Katahdin breed adapts well to a variety of environments; their winter coats provide enough protection for cold climates while their short hair coats allow them to tolerate the heat of summer.
Why did we choose Katahdin for Island Mountain Farm?
We spent several years watching and learning about our property to determine the best livestock to raise. It became clear that raising cattle would damage the brittle environment, and Farmer Bill refused to raise goats as they are notorious escape artists! A friend suggested sheep and before Farmer Bill could say “No!” he ate some Katahdin lamb chops just off the BBQ - and the rest is history.
A medium sized sheep, Katahdins are low maintenance, well suited to Island Mountain’s climate, great for grass and foraging, easy to work with, have incredible flavor and produce great lambs. Ewes lamb easily, usually produce twins (sometimes triplets!), and have exceptional mothering ability. The lambs are born vigorous and alert and "fun fact": unlike many wool sheep breeds they will fight to survive if they are born with issues.
What is life on the farm like for our Sheep?
Our flock happily spends most of the year on pasture; we supplement with bales of grass / alfalfa hay when the pastures aren't producing enough to feed them. A typical ‘calendar’ year: in January our sheep are in their winter paddocks, enjoying hay supplemented with a mineral mix, kelp meal, squash, and apples. Late February is lambing season! The ewes and their newly born lambs are put together in ‘jugs’ (small spaces inside a lambing shed) so they have some peace and quiet for bonding.
While the Farmers don't get much sleep during lambing - it's worth it to watch a ewe deliver her lambs - and be on deck in case a ewe needs help delivering. Each lambing is unique, rewarding or challenging; sadly there are always a few lambs who don't make it. As Farmer Bill's grandfather told him many years ago, "If you raise livestock you have to deal with some dead stock." While losing a lamb is heart wrenching, we are thankful that has been a rare experience at Island Mountain Farm.
After a week in ‘jugs’, the new lambs are moved into a nursery area with access to sweet, soft alfalfa ‘just’ separated from but proximate to their mums. The ewes and their lambs all have unique calls and each day is filled with the sounds of the ewes looking for their lambs and lambs calling for their mums. (we post "Baby Lamb Races" each year).
In May they all move onto pasture (fenced paddocks), where the flock stays until the forage dries up and then the year starts all over again.
What does This Mean for You?
Katahdin are known for their high quality, fine-textured, mildly flavored meat. Importantly, lambs from Island Mountain Farm are raised and finished on their mother's milk and Okanogan’s Highland's dryland pasture - just pasture, mom’s milk and pure well water (no grain, no supplements, no hormones)! We also practice on-farm slaughter to minimize stress, to protect the flavor and structure of the meat and because we treat our animals with love and respect at every stage of their lives.