Katahdin Hair Sheep Upgrade Project

2001 Annual Report for LNE00-138

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2000: $135,167.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2004
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $35,344.00
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:
Dr. Richard Brzozowski
University of Maine Cooperative Extension

Katahdin Hair Sheep Upgrade Project


This research project is designed to provide the genetic base for a more profitable production of lamb using sustainable techniques such as using local feeds and rotational grazing. Problems facing the sheep industry include low wool prices and increasing parasite resistance to dewormers. The end product will provide a sheep that is resistant to internal parasites and the prion disease scrapie, requires less inputs than traditional production while producing a carcass with less fat and more muscle that meets today’s market need. This project will upgrade the Katahdin Hair Sheep using the genetics of Suffolk, Florida Native and Dorper breeds.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Through a defined crossbreeding plan and using a detailed selection process, upgrade the Katahdin sheep to be parasite resistant and produce lambs that are more market acceptable.

By the use of hands-on farm field days, written articles, slide and video presentations as well as a web page, provide 1600 current and new sheep farmers with information about the potential of using Katahdin hair sheep as a farm enterprise.

To provide at least ten farms with a group of upgraded Katahdin ewes at the end of the project to produce and sell lambs and breeding stock.


A consulting team was established to advise the research team on the breeding program and project direction. The team has met twice.

Sheep were obtained from some of the top Katahdin flocks in the US and Canada (Piel Farm, Maine; Licciardello, New Jersey; Redakovich Company, Iowa; Carol Postley, Florida; and Sword, Alberta). Florida Native sheep with parasite resistant genetics were obtained from University of Florida and Jim West of Florida. Large framed Suffolks carrying the scrapie resistant R-gene at codon 171 were obtained from Kim in Iowa, Ulrich in Illinois, and Settlemire in Maine. To increase muscling we obtained Dorper X Katahdin rams from Licciadello in New Jersey. The entire breeding group was enrolled in the USDA Volunteer Scrapie Eradication Program.

In year one, the ewes were divided into two different breeding groups towards providing the genetics of meeting our final goal. The Katahdin ewes were bred with Dorper X Katahdin rams to increase muscling. The Suffolk ewes were bred with the Florida Native rams to obtain well muscled, parasite-resistant lambs. Weights were taken on all lambs at 0, 30, 60, 90 and 120 days. Standard correction formulas were used to rank the lambs and to calculate Expected Progeny Differences (EPD). Based on procedures developed at Louisiana State University and Ohio State University, a protocol was established to determine the level of parasite resistance in individual lambs.

Soil samples were taken on all fields at the research site and a rotational grazing system was established. In cooperation with Pennsylvania State University, a plant species census was done on all pasture land to establish a benchmark from which to monitor effects of rotational grazing.

A Hair Sheep Field Day was held on October 12, 2000 where approximately 100 individuals learned about the research project, rotational grazing, muscle scoring, and condition scoring.

News articles on the research project appeared in the Portland Sunday Telegram (November 2000), Brunswick Times Record (November 2000); Shepherd Magazine (August 2001); Downeast Magazine, The Maine Sheep Breeders Newsletter; the Maine Agriculture Center, Bowdoin College Magazine (Spring 2001); Maine Agriculture Today (Fall 2000). Oral presentations were made at the New Hampshire Sheep & Wool Festival (May 2001), The Maine Agriculture Trades Show (January 2001); Maine Sheep Breeders Association Annual Meeting (October 2001); New England Extension Livestock/Dairy Network Meeting (October 2001); The New England Sheep & Goat Genetic Alliance Symposium (July 12, 2001); and The Katahdin Hair Sheep International Hairald.

A colorful portable display was made to describe and illustrate the research project and the same material was assembled as an information packet.

A mailing list has been assembled to educate and inform individuals about this project.

In an effort to extend our understanding of parasite biology, an additional research project on parasite resistance involving faculty and students at Bowdoin College was initiated. The emphasis of the research is to better understand the biological implications of the sheep immune system and of a key white blood cell (specifically eosiniphils) in parasite resistance. A faculty member and seven undergraduate students are currently involved in this important research.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

The lambing percentage of the Katahdin X Katadhin/Dorper was 192%. The lambing percentage of the Suffolk X Florida Native was 177%. The selection criteria for the lambs that were kept in the project included: (1) daily rate of gain (2) highest EPD for 60 days and 120 days and (3) extensive parasite resistance testing results and evaluation. As a result, we were able to select Kathdin/Dorper crosses with parasite resistance.

This year, four farms from Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine purchased breeding livestock from the research project to add hair sheep as an enterprise to their respective farms.


Thomas Settlemire

Department of Biology
Bowdoin College