For years, the beef cattle herd grazing peacefully at the University of Arkansas at Monticello has been a roadside fixture. Now, passersby on U.S. 425 will see something new in the pasture: nearly two dozen Katahdin sheep.
The first dozen sheep arrived June 24 at a field near the north end of campus under the UAM water tower. Eventually, the sheep herd will expand to 21, along with a smattering of goats and two guard dogs.
Adding another species to the teaching herd will provide research and learning opportunities for animal science and pre-vet students at the College of Forestry, Agriculture, and Natural Resources, according to UAM Assistant Professor Rocky Lindsey and UAM Farm Manager Greg Montgomery.
“The opportunity for animal management will be hands-on, especially for our students,” Montgomery said. “Rocky and I will be in the background making the major management decisions, but the whole point is for students to have a hands-on opportunity right here with these sheep.”
Adding sheep and goats to the teaching herd can also be a recruiting tool for the university and a resource for the community.
There is a large community of residents and students who raise sheep and goats that are underserved, Lindsey said.
“We don’t have a lot of veterinarians that treat them,” he said. “We don’t have a huge amount of research or resources to serve them so they can draw on our information to use in their operation.
“By adding sheep and goats, we can serve the community better,” Lindsey said. “Down the road, the sheep will likely be used for research.”
Montgomery said he and Lindsey have looked forward to adding sheep to the teaching herd for quite some time.
“We have seen the number of sheep growing in this part of the state,” he said. “There’s not a lot of information out there. I think that adds to our program and the knowledge we can give to our students.”
The sheep are hair sheep that shed their wool each spring so they don’t have to be sheared, according to Lindsey.
“We will not be producing wool,” he said. “We will be producing meat. There is a large community that prefers sheep meat, also known as mutton. We will be providing meat instead of wool as you normally would think of a sheep operation.”
He said the herd will be managed through the whole life cycle.
“We will raise these sheep to have lambs,” Lindsey said. “We will vaccinate, we will help with the maternity process, we will help with keeping the feet sheared and protect them from parasites and treat them accordingly.”
Montgomery has been managing the beef farm at UAM for 26 years.
“The campus has had cattle for more than 40 years. We had pigs, but I’m not aware of any sheep before these,” Montgomery said.
“Sheep are supposed to be very complementary with beef cattle, especially when it comes to forage management and learning how to take advantage of both animals,” he said. “We are very lucky here at the university. We have enough acreage that we can have large and small ruminants, so we can turn out more information.”
Montgomery said about two months of planning went into bringing the sheep from Camden. “Getting them was the simple part,” he said. “The process of getting ready was an endeavor. Preparations included building a new fence.”
So far, the sheep have adapted well to their new home.
“They do know what an electric fence is,” Montgomery said. “I’m a little nervous about where they will be tomorrow morning, but I’m excited about where they are today.”