When the first hair ewes stepped off the trailer, raising sheep was not a new endeavor for Daniel. Having grown up taking care of sheep at Backwoods Farm where his parents, Jeff and Melinda Ulry, bred and exhibited registered Suffolks, then later switching to club lambs prior to Daniel and his sister Lydias start in 4-H. Marta did not grow up on a farm but took market lambs as a 4-H project which is how she met Daniel as they both served on the Junior Fair Board. Growing up with wool sheep, Daniel knew the amount of care that was needed during lambing season. In addition, Jeff was always joking about “the Suffolk death call” (coughing), which led Daniel to know we wanted sheep that worked for us and not the other way around. This is where the fascination with easy-care hair sheep began.
In the fall of 2011 as a senior at The Ohio State University, Daniel purchased a group of 10 ewes from a dealer that had bought-out a ranch in Texas due to severe drought that summer. The desire to have his own flock came after completing work on a project in his sheep production class the prior spring. For this project, students had to create a working sheep operation and write a business plan covering all details from breeds, facilities and management strategies to the marketing of live sheep, lamb, wool or cheese. With a plan modified for limited resources we pulled the trigger and brought home the ewes. The five katahdin and five dorper ewes were supposed to be bred for fall lambs. Planning to keep them at Daniel’s grandmother’s farm in one of the box stalls in the show cattle barn, lambing in the fall would allow them and their lambs to go outside to eat round bales of hay. This would provide enough shelter and we would not have to worry about lambing outside in the cold weather. Daniel learned a valuable lesson: to buy from a breeder that was reputable and be there to stand behind their stock. Only three of the ewes lambed that October, we had to keep the other ewes with Daniel’s parent’s sheep and they continued to lamb a few months later in January. The ewes that had fall lambs became roommates with Jeff’s Hampshire ram “Avatar” and we learned how prolific the hair ewes were when one turned out a set of twins the following May. After getting engaged, we added 13 fall born Katahdin ewe lambs March 2012 and had the base of our hair ewe flock.
The dislike of management intensive sheep and shearing made it easy to choose hair sheep but we were originally undecided between Dorpers and Katahdins. We still wanted to have something pleasant to look at with having a show lamb background, but wanted easy care sheep so we tried some of each. We have since decided we really like the F1 Katahdin x Dorper crosses as a commercial ewe. The size, hardiness and mothering of the Katahdin breed pairs well with the width and muscling of the Dorper breed. However the greater the percentage of Dorper, the smaller the size of your mature ewes. With that knowledge, in 2018 with major improvements in the quality of Katahdin rams available locally to us we decided to change our commercial flock over to registered Katahdins. Not wanting to start again from scratch we began upgrading our best commercial ewes and then in 2020, trading out some commercial ewes to replace with keeper percentage ewe lambs and adding some registered ewe lambs. This has allowed us to keep our genetics that have done well with minimal inputs and added some new genetics to speed up the process of being able to market registered offspring at some of the KHSI auctions held each year. We are slowly getting used to seeing tails after a lifetime of docking.
It is our goal to raise sound, productive genetics that excel in a variety of production settings, for both new and experienced shepherds, without sacraficing phenotype. We have and will continue to select individuals that require less management inputs, such as hoof trimming, deworming (parasite tolerance), and grain supplementation for mature ewes. We like a fast growing, large framed, heavy muscled ewe that fleshes easily and raises twins without assistance. With working off the farm we only check ewes morning and night during lambing. We prefer to lamb in the months of January and February with access to the winter dry lot that is sometimes muddy and our three sided barn. Maternal instinct and structural correctness is crucial to a ewes longevity in our operation; after dropping her lambs they are moved into our closed barn. Only triplets and first time ewe lambs get jugged for 24-72 hours due to limited barn space and most ewe lambs with singles go right into the group pen. This style of management has made it easy to cull ewes with poor mothering instincts and is closer to how we lambed on pasture in the fall to start with. With the majority of our male lambs going to market we prefer a fast growing lamb. At the end of the day we are producing lambs to become a high quality meat eating experience or the breeding stock to produce more high quality lambs that can be sold for a premium at the local market or direct to the consumer.
We have helped others get into the sheep industry with starter flocks and look forward to helping more people in the future as we continue to grow and change. We see Katahdins as a breed well-suited and adaptable to the beginner and experienced shepherd with great potential as the sheep industry makes a comeback on American soil.