Check out what’s happening in Madison WI at The Speckled Hen Inn right now. Our little flock of Katahdin Hair Sheep attract a lot of attention especially at this time of year when the new little lambs are so much fun to watch. We have 8 little lambs this year and there is a video of them with their moms on our Facebook page. The first question that most folks ask is ,” What are those animals in the pasture? Are they goats?” No, they are sheep but they are a different kind of sheep than you usually see. Katahdin Hair Sheep are a breed that was developed in the 1950′s by a fellow from Maine whose goal was to develop a breed of sheep that didn’t require shearing. He imported some African Hair sheep from St Croix, Virgin Islands and crossed them with several wool producing breeds. In addition to not requiring an annual shearing his goal was to produce vigorous animals that didn’t require a lot of maintenance. We think that he succeeded. Guests frequently ask us what we do with the wool. Well first, it isn’t wool. It is hair and it is a pretty coarse fiber, similar to the hair on a German Shepherd dog. It is too coarse to spin to make yarn although it is possible to make pressed felt from the fiber. The sheep will begin shedding as soon as the weather begins to warm up in the spring and they will rub against the fence posts and anything else they can find, including each other, to get rid of that itchy coat. We do not collect the hair that they shed but we often see birds pick it up to build their nests. It makes it easy to spot those nests in the fall when the trees lose their leaves. What the birds leave on the ground quickly disappears when we mow the pastures. It is also standard not to dock the tails of Katahdin sheep. They may also be any color. Our flock has white, tan, and thanks to the introduction of a brown ram last fall, brown sheep. Some of this springs’ lambs have patches of color. It will be interesting to see if this changes as they mature. Katahdin sheep frequently have twins or even triplets after their first lambing and lambing for Katahdin sheep is nothing like the tales in James Harriot’s books. Our ewes just go off to a quiet corner of the pasture and give birth without any assistance from humans. The only problem we ever seem to encounter is that Mom will occasionally forget where she left the first lamb when she gives birth to a second one. We sometimes need to intervene to get the family back together. The ewes and lambs rely on scent to identify each other.
The best rooms at the Inn for watching the lambs in the pasture are The Starkweather Creek Room, The Token Creek Room and the Rising Sun Room but no matter what room you choose, you are always welcome to stand by the pasture fence and let the sheep work their soothing magic on you. “Hoppy Hour”, just before sunset seems to be the time that the lambs are most active and entertaining. They play tag and chase each other around the pasture until their moms call a halt to the foolishness. You can’t help but smile as you watch.