About Katahdin Sheep
The development of the breed began in the
late 1950’s with the importation of a small number of haired sheep from the
Caribbean by Michael Piel of Maine. The Piel Farm had several thousand sheep at
the time and Piel felt that “progress in selection for traits important to the
production of meat would be greatly enhanced by the elimination of wool as a
major factor for selection.” His goal was to combine the hair coat,
prolificacy, and hardiness of the Virgin Island sheep with the meat
conformation and rate of growth of wool breeds. He began to experiment with
crosses between the hair sheep and various British breeds, especially Suffolk.
After almost 20 years of crossing the resulting hybrids “in every conceivable
combination” and selecting the individuals with the desired combination of
traits, Piel eventually collected a flock of ewes he called KATAHDINS, named
after Mt. Katahdin in Maine. During the mid 1970’s the Wiltshire Horn, a
shedding breed from England, was incorporated into the flock to add size and
improve carcass quality.
From this original flock, new breeders have
been able to expand the number of Katahdin sheep in North America and many
other countries, and select carefully for hair coat, carcass quality, and
Katahdin sheep display many desirable
economic traits. In order to scientifically document and test these traits,
Katahdin breeders have been involved in several experimental trials.
Studies of internal parasite tolerance in
Arkansas indicate that Katahdin sheep possess a significantly higher degree of
parasite resistance than wool sheep that they were compared to. Heat tolerance
trials demonstrated a similar relationship. Other traits being studied at
research institutions include out-of-season breeding, prolificacy and fertility
factors, carcass quality and meat flavor, and growth performance.
Source: Katahdin Hair Sheep International