By Ben Norman
||Ron Prokop gives his Katahdin sheep an afternoon treat.
When Ron Prokop retired from his assistant fire chief job in Alachua County, Florida, he had no idea he would be giving up the excitement of fire fighting to raise Katahdin hair sheep on his
43-acre farm near Florala, Alabama.
"I started off raising goats, but we were having a lot of trouble with parasites. I got interested in raising sheep. After doing a little research, I thought the Katahdin sheep showed promise for the area where I live. I’ve always been interested in producing the most meat for my labor. I guess this is what steered me toward the Katahdin sheep," said Prokop.
Prokop said he raised goats for about 18 years, but was constantly having problems with intestinal parasites.
"I had to worm my goats about every 45 days, and still lost some to parasites. I started raising sheep in conjunction with my goat herd. I soon saw we were having much less parasite trouble with the sheep and were getting a better forage conversion with the Katahdin sheep than we were with our goats," said Prokop.
According to Prokop, Michael Piel, a Maine sheep farmer, developed the Katahdin sheep breed. "Piel took a St. Croix hair sheep from the Virgin Islands and crossed sheep until he got his desired conformation. When he was satisfied with his line of meat sheep, he had to decide on a name for them. The story goes he looked up at a mountain near his home named Mt. Katahdin, so he named his breed the Katahdin sheep," said Prokop.
Prokop said there is a growing trend among wool producers to convert to meat sheep.
|Bruiser, Prokop’s herd sire, (broadside) is the grandson of the Canadian Grand Champion, Goliath.
"The competition from foreign produced wool is hurting our domestic wool producers considerably. Some owners of wool producing sheep are buying Katahdin rams and crossing them with their wool-producing ewes to obtain an acceptable quality meat sheep for market. With the demand for lamb meat on the increase, producers are striving to come up with a sheep that doesn’t have a lanoline taste like some wool producing sheep have. A hybrid produced from a wool producing ewe and a Katahdin ram results in a leaner cut of meat with an improved taste," said Prokop.
The demand for sheep and goat meat is strong in the northeastern part of the United States and in Florida, with a steadily increasing demand in Alabama.
Along with the increased demand for lamb comes an increase in sheep producers. Most purchasers of sheep and goats in Alabama and Northwest
for more information.
Prokop said good fences and guard dogs are an absolute necessity for raising sheep.
"We have two guard dogs that are very vigilant. I also have a herding dog that saves me a lot of time. We have mesh wire fences around the perimeter and use mesh wire for cross fencing, also. This type fence in conjunction with a good guard dog will prevent predation problems from domestic dogs and coyotes."
Besides good fences and guard dogs, Prokop said sheep producers need to be very vigilant during birthing season.
Good forage is also critical for raising meat sheep. Prokop uses a no-till seeder for planting oats, rye grass, wheat and four varieties of legume clover. He buys all his feed, seed, fertilizer and soybean by-products from the Florala Farmers’ and Builders’ Coop.
"Pete Blackwell and the other employees are very knowledgeable and helpful. If they don’t know the answer to a question, they will find out for you.
"I plant my winter forage by October 15 and want to be grazing winter forage by December 15. We then take the sheep off the winter grazing by April 15, and by May 15 we are cutting hay. We sell the surplus hay to the horse breeders in the area. During the summertime our sheep graze on Tifton 85 bermuda grass," said Prokop.
Prokop is especially proud of Bruiser, one of his rams who is a grandson of the Canadian Grand Champion ram, Goliath.
"Bruiser weighed 305 pounds at 22 months of age," he said "In 2005, he had offspring that dressed out 60%, which is an outstanding ratio. For comparison, an average goat will dress out about 47%. I’m shooting for an average of 60% dressed weight, and I believe I have the genetics to obtain it."
Rosemary, Prokop’s wife, is a registered nurse whose skills come in handy when it’s time to worm and vaccinate the sheep.
"I may be the head sheep herder most of the time, but when it comes time to doctoring, all Rosemary lets me do is hold the sheep for her to administer the medicine," laughed Prokop.
Rosemary is an avid animal lover herself with horses, birds, dogs and a large flock of geese. She said goose eggs make the richest, best tasting pound cake anyone has ever tasted.
"I’ve seen some pretty proper people forget their table manners when they bite into a slice of that goose egg pound cake," laughed Rosemary.
. For additional information on Katahdin sheep, contact John Stormquest, president of Katahdin Hair Sheep International, at 815-629-2159.
Ben Norman is a writer from Highland Home.