A Journey Begins with Five Ewes
In 2009, Free Radical Ranch embarked on a journey with five Katahdin ewes, leading to our first lambs in the spring of 2010. Our beloved matriarch, Penny, our fourth-ever lamb, graced us with her presence for over 13 years. Today, Honey, born in 2011, stands as our elder, reminding us of our humble beginnings.
Our initial attraction to Katahdins was their impressive genetics and health benefits. And sheep eat different pasture grasses than horses, making them perfect companions for our horses. While horses and sheep coexist peacefully, it turns out that they prefer their own company. The horses did not turn into the protectors we expected! It wasn’t until our donkeys’ arrival in 2022 that we found equids willing to mingle with our sheep.
Our first Katahdin lambs with their mommas!
Katahdins are unique in that they shed their winter wool, eliminating the need for shearing. This was a significant factor for us, as that means less work and easier care. (Of course, now we’ve added fiber animals like alpacas, llamas, angora goats, and Teeswater longwool sheep and have to shear them!)
Monroe shedding her winter coat!
The Katahdin Personality
These sheep are more than just livestock; they’re family. Their friendly demeanor makes them a joy to be around. They’ve been there during our highs and lows, like when they comforted Jennifer during a challenging week. And nothing beats the sight of the entire flock running at the sound of Jennifer’s call, “Sheeple!”
Health and Breeding Choices
Katahdins are known for their remarkable parasite resistance. For years, our flock thrived without any worming treatments. Only when environmental conditions boosted worm populations did we intervene, and even then, selectively. By incorporating genetics from high parasite-resistant rams by using data from the National Sheep Improvement Program (NSIP), we’ve ensured our flock remains robust.
Amelie and her freshly delivered newborn triplets!
Breeding in Harmony with Nature
At Free Radical Ranch, our breeding practices are in tune with nature’s rhythm. We aim for our new lambs to arrive when the spring grass is at its lush peak. This ensures our ewes have access to the most nutritious feed right when they need it most: during the crucial third trimester and the high-milk-producing period before weaning. While industry standards might suggest lambing in the colder months of January or February, we’ve found that without supplemental grains, lambs use more energy to stay warm than to grow during these chilly times. By aligning our lambing with the bounty of spring, we not only provide the best for our sheep but also embrace a sustainable and holistic approach to farming.
Crystal as a momma with her twins!
Our Lambing Practices: A Testament to Care
Lambing is a time of joy and anticipation at Free Radical Ranch. We prioritize the well-being of both the ewe and her lambs. As we grass-feed our sheep, we occasionally treat them to alfalfa pellets. While these are essentially dried grass, our sheep still consider them a delightful treat. They also receive hay and water to ensure optimal health.
When the lambs arrive, the ewes usually handle the birthing process independently. After birth, we gently place them in a small lambing pen. This gives the ewe and her newborns a chance to bond in a peaceful environment. By day two, the lambs are weighed and ear-tagged. We take pride in our hands-off approach during the early stages. First-time mothers might be a tad protective, but our experienced ewes know the drill. They understand that they’ll soon enjoy a treat and some well-deserved rest. Depending on the ewe’s comfort, they rejoin the flock in 2-5 days.
See this dreamy lamb snuggle up with his momma!
Once all the ewes have lambed, they and their lambs are grouped together, grazing and playing in the vast pastures. Weaning is another area where we deviate from industry norms. Instead of the standard 8-week weaning, we wait until 12 weeks. This reduces stress for both the mother and the lambs. Even at this stage, we only separate the ram lambs, allowing the ewe lambs to stay with the females.
Crystal as a youngster!
A Deeper Connection
Each sheep at Free Radical Ranch has its unique personality. Honey loves a good scratch, while Lenore craves attention and is always eager to greet visitors. Their bond with their lambs is profound, recognizing them more by scent than sight.
Jennifer and sheeple!
In 2018, we introduced a comprehensive tagging system, advised by our longtime sheep veterinarian, Dr. James Simpson of Simpson Veterinary Services in Walton, Kentucky. The right ear, or the “government ear” as Dr. Simpson fondly calls it, carries a USDA-approved white tag with the lamb’s number and our flock number. Female lambs sport an additional colored tag in their left ear, showcasing our farm name, Free Radical Ranch, and our Katahdin Hair Sheep International flock code (JLM). And to keep track of lineage, all lambs are given a smaller colored tag indicating their father’s name. This system ensures we can easily trace and evaluate the outcomes of various matings, all while ensuring the well-being and comfort of our beloved sheep.
Ewe lamb with her white USDA tag and small yellow tag for her daddy (Rampage) in her right ear plus her purple farm tag in her left ear.
Why Katahdins Are the Future
According to Dr. Dave Notter of Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Katahdin hair sheep are the future of America’s commercial flock. Their resistance to parasites, low maintenance, high fertility, excellent mothering ability, and either no wool or high-quality wool production make them stand out.
At Free Radical Ranch, we’re proud to be part of this movement, raising Katahdins with love, care, and a commitment to excellence.
Jennifer hanging out with the sheep on a hay bale in the spring!
Meet our Sheep at Free Radical Ranch!
Interested in meeting our amazing registered Katahdins and experiencing the magic of Free Radical Ranch firsthand? Come visit our farm and see them for yourself.
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15299 Parkers Grove Road
Morning View, Kentucky 41063