More bang for the buck
Kitzan's Samm sheep
By Jan Swan Wood , Tri-State Livestock News Friday, May 29, 2009
Ewes and lambs eating hay on a beautiful evening in May is a peaceful scene. Fat lambs nibble at the alfalfa leaves, their backs broad and long, hindquarters round and
shoulders muscular. An excellent quality set of lambs in anyone’s book. The ewes look the same: muscular, yet feminine, a good layer of fat over the back, well muscled
quarters, and an overall appearance of prosperity.
Nowhere is there evidence, when observing these ewes, that they just came through the harshest winter and spring in many years. Furthermore, they don’t look like ewes that
are nursing big lambs. The biggest surprise is that they are just yearlings, and many of them have twins.
The Kitzans of Nisland, SD are dedicated sheep producers who are in the business for the long haul. Dwight is a second generation sheep producer, while Gwen is fourth
generation. Their son Josh, now in college, is the fifth generation to be in the business. He intends to come back to the farm and the sheep when he completes his education.
Gwen was raised on a ranch that ran large bands of commercial ewes, while Dwight was raised in the registered business. He started raising registered Suffolks in 1973 and had
them when he and Gwen married. In 1989 they added registered Rambouillets. They showed both breeds, as well as selling breeding stock.
It was after the awful winter of 1996-97 that the Kitzans started searching for a sheep that converted feed better, had good wool quality, was less labor intensive and possessed
A day spent grading wool at an area ranch introduced Dwight to a young man from South Africa who talked of a breed that had good quality wool, plus were noted for their meat
production and general vigor. Dwight was intrigued.
At the county fair later that summer, the young South African man inspected Dwight’s top quality Suffolk and Rambouillet show string, but was not impressed.
“He looked at them and asked, ‘why do you Americans like these skinny, ugly sheep?’ Man, I was shocked!” said Dwight. “Those were great sheep and he said that.”
That comment got Dwight to start asking questions though, and the young man told him about the Samms sheep they ran in his home country.
He claimed they were a dual purpose breed that produced excellent meat and wool under very adverse conditions, not unlike the northern plains of the U.S. The Kitzans were
interested, to say the least.
Internet research turned up more information and they studied everything they could find about them. When Dwight was asked to judge the sheep show at the Agribition at
Regina, Saskatchewan, they finally saw some Samms for themselves. One breeder from Alberta had embryo transferred some Samms and ended up winning everything at the
show with the resulting offspring.
“They were just incredible!” says Gwen. “We’d never seen anything like them.”
In 1999 the Kitzans were able to import a ram from this same breeder, and later another. However, the BSE outbreak in Canada closed the border to importing breeding stock
of any species, and the Kitzans were in a bind. They had successfully used the two rams they had imported and were very impressed with the first cross lambs. They needed
more breeding stock, but finding new bloodlines was difficult.
Fortunately, they were able to swap rams with a breeder in Texas so they could diversify the bloodlines, therefore expanding their breeding herd and increasing their Samm
percentage. They were finally getting on the road to building a herd of Samms, and the demand for breeding rams was growing quickly.
They attempted to import semen from a different flock in Alberta, but import restrictions prevented that. They were finally able to buy some semen from a veterinarian in
Oregon who had transported it back from Australia.
Samms sheep are also referred to as Meat Merinos. Samms stands for South African Meat Merino, and derived from sheep that originated in Germany. The selection for the
heavy muscling, fine wool, and durability happened for many generations to create the breed as it is known today.
“In April, during all the blizzards and mud, the other sheep really had it tough,” said Dwight. “It took so much feed to keep those ewes milking and the lambs growing. Some of
the ewes nearly dried up from the stress. Not the Samms though. I couldn’t believe how they looked! The ewes and lambs stayed fat and you just can’t believe how those lambs
“They didn’t require all the additional feed either,” adds Dwight. “They just utilize feed so well, it’s amazing.”
“The Samms keep their lambs with them better too,” says Gwen. “We’d have to move sheep around from pens and barns, and the other ewes would lose their lambs and take a
long time to get paired up again. The Samms just keep their lambs close and it’s no big deal to move them around.”
The Kitzans also found that they didn’t spend as much money on vet supplies with the Samms.
“The wet conditions brought on some pneumonia and other sickness in our lambs, which we expected, but the Samms just didn’t seem to be very affected by it all,” says Gwen.
“That saves so much work too.”
There is some fairly hard evidence that the Samms are also more resistant to internal parasites and an ongoing study in Australia is looking to confirm that. Due to the harsh
conditions and natural selection found in their country of origin, the sheep have strong constitutions and the weaker types have died off and therefore not added their blood to
the breed, in both South Africa and Australia.
A trip Down Under
The Kitzans wanted to learn more about the Samms in the harsh, range conditions they have thrived in, so they celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary with a trip to
Western Australia and the big sheep stations that are found in that region. They stayed at six different stations and videotaped everything they could.
They went to the sheep sale yards as well, to see large drafts of lambs when they were ready for market.
“After we finally convinced this yard manager that we weren’t just ‘greenies,’ he was very willing to talk about the different sheep in the yards,” Gwen says. “He said that there
were 16 different breeds and crosses in the yards, but the ones that were making the most money were definitely the Samms.”
“The flies are terrible down there,” adds Dwight. “Kind of like the mosquitoes here. Fly strikes are a big problem, but the Samms are clean butted and don’t have much trouble
Fly strikes occur when the flies lay eggs in the manure that collects on the wool around a sheep’s tail and maggots feed on the skin and flesh underneath, causing the sheep to
suffer terribly and eventually die if untreated. On Australian stations with four or five thousand head of ewes, plus their lambs, a sheep that is unlikely to have this problem is
“The producers in Australia got into the Samms about the same time we did,” says Gwen. The breed has taken off and is very popular there as well.
To be considered a purebred, there must be seven generations of purebred rams in the lineage. The Kitzans have kept very careful records of their sheep, and though there is
currently no breed registry in the U.S., they are able to document what their Samms pedigrees are.
“The most progress is made when we can A.I. or live cover,” says Dwight. “The embryos transfers are too inconsistent in quality. Out of a flush of, say, 12 embryos, only one of
them may show the actual breed characteristics you’re looking for. That’s just not good enough. The live cover or A.I. offspring are way more consistent.”
The Kitzans are importing semen from three of the top rams in Western Australia. The rams are from Rockdale Station, Dumbleyung, W.A., and the Kitzans are very excited
about the offspring from these rams. They looked at the stud rams while there on their trip and were really impressed with them and their progeny.
“We looked at large groups of the lambs at Rockdale and picked out about 30 we liked the best and it turned out they were all by these three rams,” says Gwen. “That’s what we
were looking for.
“The Aussies needed to find a way to produce more wool and meat from the same number of sheep so that they could bring the next generation back to the stations. They are
getting that done with the Samms,” adds Gwen. “We wanted to do the same thing so that Josh could come back to the place, and I think it’s going to work with the Samms.”
The next goal is for Josh to take a trip to Australia and pick out the next line of Samm rams for the Kitzan breeding program. The fifth generation sheepman will be
scrutinizing the offspring of the top rams in the country to make his choices.
The Kitzans are utilizing the Samms in F1 and F2 crosses, and liking the resulting feeder lamb. The Rambouillet/Samm ewes are bred to Suffolk bucks, and the Suffolks ewes
are bred to the Rambouillet/Samm rams. The crosses are producing good framed, heavily muscled lambs that are more vigorous and better feed converters.
“The Samm lambs are good eaters. They cause the Rambouillet lambs to eat more, because the Samms are up at the bunks instead of standing in a corner,” Dwight says. “You
can sure tell them apart in the pens too.”
The Samm is a more moderately sized sheep, therefore require less feed per pound than the larger framed breeds. That reduces feed costs.
“They are non-selective grazers,” says Dwight. “They eat it all.”
That utilizes pasture more efficiently, and enhances the quality of the forage.
Fertility in the Samm is also noteworthy. The Kitzans breed their ewe lambs and get an 86 percent breed-up. The yearling ewes will raise their twins, and hold their body
condition and grow while doing so. On the flip side, they also bred 168 ewes in 21 days with two Samm ram lambs, so the early maturity is present in the rams as well.
The Samm ewe has a well shaped, high udder with good attachment and small teats. The bag is still excellent, even when ewes are seven or eight years old.
The rate of twins and triplets is very high and the ewes will generally raise the triplets themselves, even on pasture. Lamb crop percentages were increased by about 30 percent
for the Kitzans when they started using the Samm influenced ewes.
The Samm ewe will breed out of season, unlike other breeds that need cool weather to cycle. That is an advantage for the producer who wants to utilize certain forage
situations or marketing strategies.
“It can be a problem if the bucks get out though!” laughs Dwight.
“The Samm is ideally suited for the range lambing situation,” adds Dwight. “They’re good mothers who keep track of their lambs and are protective. When we were in
Australia, the station owner would take us out driving around among them and the ewes kept their lambs with them. Gosh, if a person did that with a bunch of range ewes here,
there would be a mess with lambs and ewes running off everywhere.”
The conformation of the Samm is remarkable as well. They are moderately framed, but very long through the loin and hip. The shoulder and forearm are well muscled and the
hind quarters thick and wide. The muscling on the legs goes clear to the knees and hocks. The Samm has a good paunch for feed capacity and is very uniform in type, with the
Samm lambs easily picked out of a bunch.
The carcass of the Samm lamb will go from 80 to 175 pounds without the fat depth increasing over the back, which yields a leaner carcass. The Samm will be a heavier feeder
lamb when compared with other breeds, but with a similar amount of fat.
The face is clear, as well as the lower legs, udder and breaches. The wool is fine and grades 22 microns in the Kitzan’s flock. The breed standard in Australia for ewes is 18-24
microns and rams, 19-26 microns.
The only negative that Dwight could think of is the occasional black spot on the Samm.
“The original Merinos were black and white,” says Dwight. “The Spanish selected for the white color, but the black is a recessive gene that will occasionally crop up. One of
the breeders in Australia said that if we got more than one lamb with black spots out of 500 he would be very surprised.”
The breed standard in the Australian Samm is a white fleece, pink skin, white to cream colored face and legs, and light colored hooves. Gray or black hooves are unacceptable.
The Kitzans have sold Samm rams into 17 states that are used on about 40,000 ewes.
Gwen added with a smile, “That’s the top 17 sheep producing states, not an eastern state with two flocks!” The range operators are liking the breed’s durability, fertility,
“strong constitutions,” and ability to prosper on marginal pasture, so demand for the rams is increasing as word gets out.
Dwight and Gwen think the Samms can improve the U.S. sheep industry as a whole. Being able to run the same amount of ewes and make more money appeals to every
producer. The Kitzans goal is to improve their bottom line by spending the least money and feed to produce a superior meat lamb in greater numbers.
The Samm breed is certainly working for the Kitzans, and they are excited about the future. This is certainly a breed that can boast of giving more “bang” for the buck!
Stud rams at Rockdale Station, Dumbleyung, West Australia. Three of the stud rams will be
utilized in the Kitzan program through the use of shipped semen. Note the heavily developed
hind quarters and broad shoulders and backs on the group.
2015 - Volume #39, Issue #4, Page #08
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.
Dwight and Gwendolyn Kitzan of Kitzan Sheep along their son and his wife, Joshua and Heather Kitzan, JHK Sheep, have 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
“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.
disappointed.”“Our vet bill dropped drastically by 80 to 85 percent,” Kitzan says. “They’re also prolific. If we don’t wean a 185
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.
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
Dwioght or 605-430-3560 Joshua ; www.kitzansheep.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; Facebook: Kitzan & JHK Sheep).
Producer Award by SD Livestock Foundation and South Dakota Cooperative
Extension Service. This is in recognition of excellence in South Dakota sheep
management and lamb production while teaching, encouraging and
management. It was an honor to be included with some many other great
Master Sheep Producers.
Joshua Kitzan Represented Kitzan Sheep, JHK Sheep and Kitzan Family Farms
at the 2015 South Dakota Governor's Agricultural Summit.
The Governor's Agricultural Summit brings together leaders in business,
finance, education, government and production agriculture to demonstrate
agriculture's comparative advantages and discuss ways to harness the
industry's potential for economic development.
It was our great pleasure to host the South Dakota Agricultural and Rural
Leadership, Inc. Class VII November 2015 Seminar. Thank you to Joan and
Melissa from Wells Fargo, Scott from Farm Service Agency, and Justin and Gary
from NRCS (National Resource Conservation Service) for taking time out of their
busy schedule to visit with the SDARL and for supporting Agriculture and our