Cascade Katahdin Lambs

Cascade Katahdin lambs hiding in a cedar grove at EEC Forest Stewardship are the newest generation of sheep at Leafhopper Farm. We’re into our 4th year breeding Katahdins, and the work continues to show in fine lambs. Ten is the final Spring count, spanning January through March. Eight ewes out of nine dropped four sets of twins and two singles. The singles are from one line, which I have kept for genetic differences, but will be phasing out, because twins are expected in Katahdin ewes, and lack of fertility is a cull trait. There are two teats on a ewe’s milk bag, so two lambs are ideal. Many commercial operations push for maximum output, at the cost of the ewes health and longevity of the offspring. More is not always better- lots of other stresses occur for the ewe and her lambs when 4-6 offspring are produced. The amount of inputs to get such gestation to term and remain within the healthy limitations of nature remains impossible. I import alfalfa for the winter months, and it could get too expensive for our operation limitations, so we’re drawing down our herd numbers again this year. If there was more time and pasture, if there was a greater need, we’d be able to expand the flock for food demand any time, and that’s where we’ll continue to be prepared to grow.

The young lambs are frisky and fun, charging around the fresh grassy field after weeks in a barn. When lambs are born, they are vulnerable to cold and wet, so in this environment, we keep them inside till they are well fluffed up and carrying enough body mass to be outside and not get cold. Cold lambs won’t grow up to be strong, fatty lambs. Cold animals have to eat more just to keep warm, we’d rather they be well fed and comfortable to keep the weight on. The ewes need milk fat, so keeping them fat and happy keeps the lambs the same. Fresh green grass helps a lot, but minerals like salt are still needed, and when the flock is in at night, alfalfa still fills the manger. We are starting to have warmer nights, allowing the flock to stay out all night. We’re also teaching the lambs about electric mesh fencing. After just one or two shocks, most soft noses stay clear of the fence line. It’s important that a lamb’s first encounter with electric mesh involves a shock. Without it, the lambs will quickly learn to get tangled in the mesh and such behavior can lead to choking and death. A hot fence sets the tone for a solid barrier, creating a healthy relationship for the sheep in the electric mesh fencing.

We’re selling another starter flock this year too. Two of our ewes and three lambs are currently listed to go as a group for a small scale livestock system. Fold these five in with some chickens in a pasture rotation, and you’ve got an easy setup with parasite management built in. Katahdins are naturally resistant, but keeping the bugs in check is still important, so chickens add a strong layer of gleaning and cleaning to disrupt parasite lifecycles. The hardiness of these sheep is what makes them a great starter sheep for new livestock enthusiasts, and their easy temperament is a joy to work with. What really separates Katahdins from other sheep, besides shedding their coats and being easy to maintain, is the incredible flavor of their meat. This is a meat breed, but it was also bred for flavor. There’s no grease, mutton, or game taste in this gourmet delight. The frame of this animal is stocky and long, to accommodate good portions of thick roasts. These sheep have no mutton taste to them, so the trim fat adds a sweet flavor. Even our ram meat is mellow and good. We’ve had a lot of fun blind tasting friends- who are willing participants.

Everyone enjoys the taste of our Cascade Katahdins, and our wait list for lambs continues to grow. In 2023, we had a client enter one of our lambs in their non-profit auction. This is a very exciting way to connect more people to great local food, while also supporting local conservation in the ecosystem EEC Forest Stewardship Cascade Katahdins reside. Sheep can be a great restoration species to utilize in building fertility for future forests of Cascadia. They are also a low impact source of healthy protein and taste delicious. We hope to inspire more people to work with the Katahdin Breed and form closer relationship with food and the soil it comes from.

Lambing is a joy for us here, because our ewes are independent mothers from birthing to weaning, and the quality of our lambs reflect the health of our flock and the environment they thrive in. Katahdins brows shrubs and trees, which is unusual in sheep behavior- most graze grass and nothing else. Because of the diverse diet, Katahdin sheep are great blackberry devourers, and keep pasture edges cropped so bramble does not invade, while remaining light on the land, preventing erosion. Like any livestock, sheep must be rotated off land to allow its recovery. Rotational grazing is the key to maintaining abundant pastures and woodlands. With a smart restoration plan, Leafhopper Farm’s Cascade Katahdins play an important role in building fertility through the conversion of grass and shrubs into meat and manure. The meat is delicious for us, and the manure feeds the plants to maintain ecological health and nutrient balanced soil. It’s a win win for all in this holistic practice.

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