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South African Sheep Catch On In U.S.
A sheep breed that produces a slaughter lamb at an early age and sports a coat of fine wool attracted the attention of the Kitzan family of Nisland, S. Dak., who traveled more than 9,000 miles to buy breeding stock in 1999 and 2012. They now sell purebred rams to producers with white-face sheep to increase lamb weights and improve wool quality.
  Gwendolyn Kitzan co-owns Kitzan Sheep with her husband, Dwight, and their son and his wife, Joshua and Heather Kitzan. They’ve built their business around the South African Mutton Merino (SAMM) breed.
  The first meat Merinos were developed in Germany and imported into South Africa in 1932 for a breeding program. Through selection and breeding for better wool quality and conformation, the uniqueness of the South African breed was recognized in 1971 when the breed name was changed to the South African Mutton Merino. The first SAMM sheep were imported into Australia in 1995. Since then the breed has been widely adopted across Australia.
  “The breeders made the sheep earn a living. They aren’t pampered, so they’re non-select grazers. They eat everything, and they spread out when they graze. Another advantage is they have higher udder attachments so they are less likely to be injured by thorns and brush. The udders last longer and the teats never get big so it’s easy for lambs to pick up,” Kitzan says.
  The South Dakota sheep producers recognized the breed’s hardiness immediately.
  “Our vet bill dropped drastically by 80 to 85 percent,” Kitzan says. “They’re also prolific. If we don’t wean a 185 percent lamb crop we’re disappointed.”
  About 75 to 80 percent of the ewe lambs lamb at 14 months, raising an average of a 150 percent lamb crop.  
  The Kitzans kept meticulous data as they crossbred SAMM stock with their Rambouillets for 4 years. Other sheep producers saw the results and purebred SAMM genetics.
  SAMM sheep can breed year round, Kitzan adds. That means the opportunity for three lamb crops in two years. But it also means it’s important to have good management and fencing to avoid unplanned out-of-season lambs.
  The Kitzans currently raise SAMM and Suffolk sheep and sell stock with the price based on a ram’s index and Estimated Breeding Values (EBV) using the National Sheep Improvement Program (NSIP). Each animal has detailed records about its parents, birth weight, weight gain, loin eye size, etc. The Kitzans’ website contains information about SAMM wool and meat details.
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Kitzan Sheep, 18293 Sheep Corner Rd., Nisland, S. Dak. 57762 (ph 605 257-2105 or cell ph 605 430-1593; www.kitzansheep.com; shepherd@kitzansheep.com; Facebook: Kitzan & JHK Sheep).

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2015 - Volume #39, Issue #4