Katahdin Hair Sheep Upgrade Project

2002 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 profitable production of lamb using hair sheep and sustainable inputs such as local feeds and rotational grazing. The end product will provide a sheep that requires no shearing, is resistant to internal parasites, is resistant to scrapie, and requires less inputs. These sheep will produce a carcass with less fat and more muscle meeting today’s market. We are upgrading the Katahdin through crossbreeding with Suffolk, Florida Native, Gulf Coat Native, Dorset and Dorper breeds.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Through a defined crossbreeding plan and using a detailed selection process, upgrade the Katahdin hair sheep to be parasite resistant and produce a lamb size that is more acceptable.

By the use of field days, written articles, informative displays, power point presentations, slide and videos, news stories, and a web page, provide at least 1600 current and new sheep farmers with information about the potential of using hair sheep as a suitable enterprise.
To provide at least ten farms in the northeast with a group of upgraded Katahdin ewes at the end of the project to be used for breeding stock and for market lamb production.


The consulting team for this research project met on May 16, 2002 to review the lambing results and to provide advice for the direction of the work for the current year.

2002 Lambing Results – 71 lambs were born. Weaning percentage was 185%. The average birth weight of all rams was 9.3, ewes was 9.5. Standard correction formulas were used to rank the lambs and calculate expected progeny differences, or EPD.

We obtained breeding stock to add increased loin and leg muscling and parasite resistance.
We crossbred ewe groups with several rams breeds to continue building our genetic base. We want to capture traits such as increased leg muscle and frame size, internal parasite resistance, and genetic resistance to prevent scrapie.

Detailed production records, including 30 day, 60 day, 90 day, and 120 day weights, were kept on all lambs. This information was used to index and rank the 2002 crop of lambs and to calculate the EPD. Each lamb was evaluated for leg muscle score and natural parasite resistance.

We established a cooperative research arrangement with Dr. Katherine O’Rourke at USDA/ARS laboratory at Washington State University. Dr. O’Rourke is one of the foremost researchers investigating the transmission and the biology of scrapie. All offspring of this project are being tested for the R gene at code on 171, which transmits resistance to scrapie). She plans to use our production data to look for positive or negative correlations.

As an enhancement to the Katahdin Hair Sheep Upgrade Project, we obtained a $6,000 grant from the Maine Agriculture Center at the University of Maine to develop a handbook for on-farm monitoring of internal parasites in sheep. This practical guide will be available to farmers in the spring of 2003.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

The lambing percentage was 200%. The selection criteria for the lambs included: (1) A minimum daily rate of gain of ram lambs for selection, sale, or breeding was 0.7 pounds per day at 60 days and 120 days of age. (2) A minimum daily rate of gain for selection, sale, or breeding for ewe lambs was 0.60 pounds per day at 60 days and 120 days of age. (3) Showing suitable natural parasite resistance.

Spin Off from the Project – Gulf Coast Native Fleece Evaluation. A group of 16 local spinners were given fleece from Gulf Coast Native sheep to evaluate the spinning quality. These sheep were obtained by the hair sheep project to introduce genetics for the natural resistance to internal parasites. Those same parasite resistant genes could be useful in any farm flock that concentrates on fiber production. The project was summarized in a report, a copy of which is included in the appendix resource section and can be requested by contacting Northeast SARE.


Thomas Settlemire

Department of Biology
Bowdoin College