The Golden Rule of Raising Livestock:
YOU CAN'T MANAGE WHAT YOU CAN'T MEASURE!
OUR SELECTION CRITERIA:
In 2005 we attended a producer-led panel discussion on producing registered breeding stock at the national meeting of the KHSI. We have refined the 20 selection criteria listed by the panel as being important, into the following three categories for Chigger Ridge:
A) TRAITS ALL ANIMALS MUST POSSESS:
1. Ease of lambing
B) TRAITS FOR WHICH WE SELECT IN ADDITION TO ABOVE , AND HOW THAT CHARACTERISTIC IS MEASURED:
8. Prolificacy - high lamb vigor and survival. No matter how good looking a ewe is she will not pay for her upkeep if she does not raise twins consistently after her first year. We keep individual production records on every animal and our goal is a 200% lamb crop from all mature ewes.
C) TRAITS WE DO NOT CONSIDER IN OUR SELECTION OF BREEDING STOCK DUE TO OUR MANAGEMENT AND PRODUCTION GOALS
15. Milking Ability of Ewe - The pounds of lamb weaned by a ewe each year is a measure of her milk production. Some breeders use 60 day adjusted weight of the lambs as a selection characteristic for this, however it is recognized that this trait is not as "heritable" as the growth potential of the lambs measured by weight at 120 days (see #10 above), so we place emphasis on this latter instead.
Unlike many sheep breeds, the Katahdin Hair Sheep has very strong maternal instincts, vigorous lambs, and few lambing difficulties. We believe there is simply no reason to lock them indoors to lamb, which increases stress and can lead to an increase in transmissible diseases. We do not "jug" even first time moms and have only had a very few abandoned lambs to date.
WHY WE ARE A FORAGE BASED OPERATION:
There are times when grain may be appropriate to feed. Smaller yearling ewes or any ewes which are lactating heavilymay need the extra energy or protein supplied from supplements. Many times our available hay quality is not sufficient for heavily milking ewes. However, graining a flock all the time, can actually be a detriment. Grain fed as sudden large meals may change the pH in the rumen, killing off many beneficial bacteria needed for proper forage utilization and thus actually decreasing an animal's ability to break down forage nutrients. High grain consumption can also lead to foot problems and, in growing animals, may push them too fast for the good bone development needed in long term breeders. At Chigger Ridge we grain only when added energy and protein are needed - usually just during lactation. We rely primarily on good forage to maintain our flock's condition. We NEVER dry lot, or feed lot our animals.
MAINTAINING YEAR ROUND FORAGE IN TENNESSEE:
Just because we feed limited grain does not mean we expect the animals to do well on pasture alone year round. Even though the Katahdin is an extremely efficient converter of feed, it is difficult to "fatten" any young animal on straight fescue pastures. Fescue is fine for maintenance, but for fast growing lambs they may need some "help" until their growth has slowed slightly, and their rumen has matured. We may plant annuals including rape and turnips for late fall forage, spring wheat for early lactation, buckwheat and chicory for those dry, hot summer months... We are constantly experimenting with different forage crops. Our permanent cool season perennial pastures are a combination of fescue, orchard grass, and clover with sericea lespedeza and purple top grass for warm season growth. We find the Katahdin breed also does a fair amount of foraging in our woods if given the opportunity. Our goal is to reduce stored hay usage and supplemental feeding to a minimum in favor of mostly year round green forage.