Couple have quickly grown their Katahdin operation
Paul and Laura Neel live on 10 acres just west of Lebanon, Mo.
They have only lived there for about three and a half years but have already started a growing Katahdin sheep operation and want to continue to expand. So much so, that they are planning to sell this property and purchase a 40-acre farm in eastern Laclede County.
LPK Katahdin Sheep Farm began in May 2018 with a registered ram and six production ewes. At last count they have 31 sheep, but that will change as they are in the middle of lambing season.
Since their beginning, they have purchased additional registered stock from Rowdy Mountain Farms in Long Lane, Mo.
Paul was raised on a dairy farm south of Sedalia, Mo., and Laura grew up in Maine. They met in California, then lived in Texas for 10 years. In 1985, they moved back to Missouri and settled on the eastern side of the state, where they lived for 30 years. Paul served in the Navy and later worked as a commercial diver.
About four years ago, they made a trip to Lebanon to get chicks from Cackle Hatchery. While there, they found everyone they met was extremely friendly and helpful, more so than any other place they have ever lived; they thought it was the friendliest place on earth. Before long they made the move to Lebanon, which also happens to be centrally located between their children and grandchildren.
The previous owners of the property raised goats, so the fencing, barn and stalls were geared to smaller livestock. They have raised horses, rabbits, beef, chickens and pigs in the past but settled on Katahdin sheep partly because they knew they didn’t want to shear and there isn’t much of a market for wool in the area. Also Laura liked that Katahdins were originally developed in Maine, her home state, and named after Mount Katahdin, the state’s highest peak.
The property is enclosed with woven wire fencing topped with barbed wire. “The sheep are very docile and easy keepers. They’ve never gotten out. In the Bible it says ‘the sheep know my voice’ and the sheep certainly know Laura’s voice; they come running when she calls them,” Paul said.
They rotate the sheep between several pastures, depending on how long the grass has grown. They also feed corn, alfalfa pellets, sheep supplements and minerals. Hooves are trimmed as needed.
“Sometimes it’s like a rodeo,” Paul said with a smile.
“Katahdin sheep are naturally resistant to parasites, but we do vaccinate and worm on a schedule according to their ages,” Laura added.
She said the Katahdin registry has three designations for the level of parasite resistance in each animal registered. Currently, it is voluntary, but she believes it might become mandatory in the future. The goal is to breed sheep that are completely resistant and free of parasites.
They have three livestock guardian dogs that patrol the farm and live with the sheep. Two are Anatolian Shepard/Akbash crossed and the other is an Anatolian Shepard/Great Pyrenees cross. Paul said they are very good with the lambs. He recounted one time a sheep gave birth and a dog helped to lick the lambs dry and kept the other sheep away until the lambs were up and moving. The dogs also keep coyotes, raccoons and opossums off the property, which is good for the chickens as well.
Laura is a 22-year breast cancer survivor and Paul started going blind about five years ago. He is totally blind in his left eye and legally blind in his right.
He said they are able to continue raising sheep “with her help” as he pointed at Laura.
“We work together,” Laura promptly added.
When out and about, Laura wears a bright colored shirt so it is easier for Paul to follow.
Paul and Laura have overcome much adversity but they haven’t let that stop them from farming.