Katahdin sheep for meat (AND DAIRY – more on that later) makes sense for our one-acre farm where having cows are not really possible. We have a few reasons why we chose the Katahdin breed of sheep, specifically.
While our total property is one acre, we do not have a full acre to use for pasture or animal housing. We have needed to be very selective with the types of animals we raise on BorderLine Farm.
Katahdin Sheep For Small Homestead (farm diary)
Our homestead sheep story starts back in 2011 when I was pregnant with our 6th child and sick on the couch. I had tasted sheep meat (lamb) twice before and was craving it so badly.
I dreamed of the day we could have our own farm and raise sheep for meat. When I felt well enough, I researched sheep breeds and their needs.
After years of research, I settled on the Katahdin breed for a few reasons. Their meat is said to be milder in flavor, they are hair sheep who shed their coats and do not need to be sheared, and they are very hardy/more like goats when it comes to food and housing.
Katahdin Sheep Dream Coming True!
Those were all more than enough reasons to make Katahdin sheep the best meat breed for us. When we added a ram and two ewes to our farm in November 2020, we only had lamb meat on our minds.
Sometime within the next year (2021-2022), we expect to share our experience raising lamb on grass for meat. We plan to process the lamb on-site, too.
The Journey To Dairy Sheep
We had never considered having an animal for dairy purposes because our oldest is severely allergic to dairy. We do have dairy products in our home (all types except actual milk) but are super careful to keep our son’s food safe.
Somewhere along the way, I read about sheep milk (and the cheese/yogurt produced from it). I had never really thought about sheep milk being a “thing”.
I knew that our breed of sheep was best for meat (in my opinion), but what about dairy? When I googled I discovered that milking sheep is (of course) possible and that if you do not want wool sheep (which are what dairy breeds are) then Katahdin sheep were the best option for both meat and dairy!
Katahdin sheep are NOT a dairy breed and so they are not bred to produce a lot of milk. They do produce high-quality milk like all sheep, though.
- Turns out, sheep milk is highly nutritious and sought after for specialty cheeses and yogurts – in fact, Greek yogurt was originally made using sheep milk.
- Sheep milk can be frozen without losing the ability to make cheese or yogurt with it later.
- It is amazing to drink fresh, too!
One of our ewes (Chloe) had a lamb on March 1st, 2021, and I have been milking her every day (save a couple of days) for a few weeks. We chose to keep the lamb with her at all times except while I am milking her, so we are sharing the milk with him – not even separating them overnight like most “lamb shares”.
We are getting around 1 pint of milk each morning on average (very first milking yield pictured above). I had read to expect between 1 pint and 1 quart of milk from a non-dairy breed like Katahdin, but that was with typical lamb-sharing techniques in play (separating for up to 12-hours overnight).
I am happy with the 1 pint per day from our ewe. We drink a little fresh (in coffee, too), but are putting most in the freezer to build up a large quantity for making cheese and yogurt.
Since we do not want tons of milk each day, this has been working out perfectly for our small farm and family’s needs.
We focus on quality over quantity here so Katahdin sheep milk works towards that goal.
We are not overflowing with extra milk and we are not going to have an abundance of dairy products from it, but a pint of fresh sheep milk every day is very manageable. Sharing with the lamb means that we are not getting the most milk possible, but I can skip milking when I need to.
That flexibility is very important to our family since we have two children with profound disabilities and medical conditions. We never know when we may be up all night caring for them or even admitted to the hospital – lamb-sharing makes those times less stressful since we know the lamb can nurse to relieve her udders.
Milking Katahdin Sheep Success or No?
After milking her almost every morning for five weeks, my disabled son started having a lot of issues that disturbed his/our sleep. We stopped milking for a few weeks and figured we were DONE for the season.
However, when the ram lamb was just over 2-months-old and we decided to separate him from his mom, she had a huge udder within 24hours. I decided to milk her again and I got the most I ever had, 1.5 pints and that was mostly from one side only since she started kicking at me when I switched sides.
I milked her a few more days during the weaning process and I now have a total of two gallons of sheep milk in the freezer. We enjoyed the fresh milk while we could, too!
I can not share this farm diary about milking sheep without disclosing the fact that it was not easy!
First, we struggled with training her to get on the milk stand. My husband had to get her up on the milk stand before he left for work every morning, but then we learned that putting a leash on her caused her to calm down and willingly walk onto the milk stand for me – success!
Second, our ewe was cooperating completely until she decided (after a couple of weeks of milking going great) to start kicking at me while I was milking – usually soon after I switched from one teat to the other. This was only ever fully stopped if my husband was in the milk barn (our ewe seems to respect him, for some reason!) – so it was difficult to continue milking her every morning since my husband couldn’t always be there (unless we woke up even earlier than 5 am, like we were doing!).
Weekends with my husband at home were a dream! Our ewe was obedient and willing to let me milk her. Milking her was very therapeutic and relaxing for me. I thoroughly enjoyed milking by hand. Getting about 1 pint of rich sheep milk each day was very satisfying.
Milking through the week was becoming stressful! She fought me (and my 12yo daughter who was helping me), she wouldn’t stand still for long, she kicked at me, and I got less than a pint of milk after all of that hard work.
All said and done, milking Katahdin sheep is an experience I will not forget and do not regret – and may even try again. I am looking forward to using the milk for yogurt/cheese (when I find time to learn how to make it).
Raising the lambs (our other ewe, Clara had her ewe lamb in April 2021) for meat is still happening.
So far, we are able to feed them only grass (orchard, local, alfalfa brought in from the local farms or farm store along with rotating them on our pasture AKA: our front & back yards!), so we are hopeful that we are producing delicious lamb meat.
Whether we will sell the ewe lamb and only continue raising the ram lamb for meat, or whether we will butcher him/them at 9 or 12 months olds is something we are still deciding. We are still new to raising Katahdin sheep – BUT, after having them on BorderLine farm for 8+ months, we can say that caring for them and keeping them alive & well IS possible on our small homestead!
We have been raising rabbits, ducks, and chickens for meat since November 2019 (the first time we processed the meat was in 2020) and so we are confident in our ability to produce meat. Lambs are a bigger job, though, so it will be a new experience.
(Farm Diary To Be Continued)
Homestead Resources I Love:
The Homemaker’s Backyard Garden Journal – Planner & Tracker is a very practical (and beautiful) garden planner that allows you to create the most efficient garden ever, year after year!
- RMO also has skincare products I love. They are based out of Utah and I have been using their products for several years now.
- Beeyoutiful also has vitamins/supplements that we use all of the time. They are a small family business based out of TN and I have been buying from them since 2008!
Sheep 101 has been my go-to website for all things sheep, including Katahdin breed and milking info.
The Elliott Homestead has been a source of information for me and a bonus is that we are both located in WA state.