The development of the breed began in the late 1950s 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 1970s 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 reproductive
efficiency. In 1986, a breeders organization, Katahdin Hair Sheep International
(KHSI) was formed. Its purposes are t
* Register individual Katahdins and record performance.
* Assist in promotion
* Encourage research
and development related to the breed.
All Katahdins eligible for registration are inspected after
one year of age to insure conformity with the standard of type. Breeders are
required to be KHSI members to register sheep or request flock inspection.
(Note: Lambs from 100% registered parents born after 1/1/98 no longer require
There are provisions for producers to follow an upgrading
program to develop a purebred Katahdin flock by recording each cross with KHSI.
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