Tales of K Bar K Farm 

Below are some articles (or links to articles) that were published on (or reference) K Bar K Farm.



September/October, 2011

"No Show"- Moving on up to a Production Flock


Sheep! Magazine article that mentions K Bar K Farm genetics- click on title above to view article





K Bar K Farm Recipient of 2008 CDC Polled Dorset Excellence Award             

May, 2009


Click HERE to view the article (pdf file).




Lancaster Farming

June 14, 2008


Woman Aims to Breed the Best Polled Dorsets in the Land                 

by Lynda Farrell


Kathy Soder breeds Polled Dorset sheep on 96 acres at K Bar K Farm south of State College . Her desire to breed the best resulted in K Bar K Farm becoming the first US importer of Polled Dorset genetics from England in 50 years. 


The “motherland” of the Dorset breed, English Dorset flocks emphasize production traits using advanced performance recording systems to select genetically superior animals, goals Kathy and husband Ken have always emphasized with their flock of registered Polled Dorset.  Kathy traveled to England, saw the stock, went through reams of data and spent 6 months organizing the export so that it met US and DEFRA regulations.

“The first lamb crop was born in March 2008,” Kathy reports, “producing rams to sell or use in our own flock and we have more semen to use in the near future.  We are very excited to have this improvement in the genetic base of the flock.”

Kathy first became interested in raising sheep in 1991 when she attended Montana State University for her Master's degree in Animal Science.  Research with a 500 ewe flock proved an education and a new found passion. After finishing her degree, Kathy obtained her Wool Classer certification and Ken joined a sheep shearing crew. 


A move back to Pennsylvania allowed Kathy to add a PhD in Animal Science from Penn State to her list of expertise.  She currently works for USDA-ARS as an Animal Scientist; Ken is a zoning officer for a local township. Both share a hankering to become full-time farmers as is evident in their new genetic breeding.

When asked about the perception that farming is a male dominated profession Kathy replied, “Traditionally, there have been very specific gender roles in agriculture. However, that mold is quickly being broken. Women, whether sole proprietors or part of a farming family, are taking much more visible roles in their farm businesses. As an ag professional, a farmer & a woman, I have had to work twice as hard to win credibility amongst the local farming community in some instances, while other times gender truly is a non-issue.”  

And what do women bring to agriculture that might be different from men?  “I feel that women have a very different perspective than men on many issues. Neither perspective is 100% correct, but when put together they can result in a decision that is better than either of the two original perspectives. Too many times the ag industry plays the 'I'm right, you're wrong' game, when in reality no one is 100% 'right' or 'wrong'. We all just get set in our ways and sometimes refuse to budge.

“Many women who have recently come to the forefront in ag have brought with them new ideas, fresh perspective, and have developed innovative production and marketing techniques. Some of these women come from traditional ag families, but others have no previous agricultural background where previous experience may jade or influence decisions. There is great merit in both backgrounds. In this challenging time of economics, high input prices, world economies, consumer demands, and public perceptions, it is time the ag industry as a whole comes together rather than picking apart one segment or another within the industry.

“We as an industry need to be open to new ideas. Many of the old models of agriculture just don't work as well or aren't as profitable as they once were. Not that all old ideas need to be thrown out, but they need to be blended with new ideas to develop a whole new perspective on agricultural production.” 

Meet Kathy, Ken and Nathan Soder www.kbarkfarm.com

The author, Lynda Farrell is an independent agricultural and environmental consultant @  lkfarrell@verizon.net.  The series, “Women in Agriculture” is made possible by a grant from PDA/USDA Risk Management Agency.


Lancaster Farming

November 2007



PA Project Grass South Central 2007 Outstanding Producer

by Candace Burke



Ken Soder Family Sheep Producers
K Bar K Farm Petersburg, PA (Huntingdon County) 

K Bar K Farm is a 96-acre pasture-based farm in northern Huntingdon County that is owned by Ken, Kathy and Nathan Soder. The Ken Soder Family has been grazing for the past ten years.
They currently have 120 grazing breeding ewes, and raise foundation-style Registered Polled Dorset sheep with a focus on low-input, easy keeping grazing ewes that breed out of season and have outstanding maternal traits balanced with superior carcass characteristics. The Soder Family uses expected progeny differences through Lambplan to assist with genetic selection, all lambs are ultra sounded annually for back fat and loin eye depth, and in Oct. 2007 they will be artificially inseminating 100 ewes with Dorset semen obtained from a high-indexing, production-oriented flock in England.
Ken and Kathy have been huge supporters of grazing and work very hard to educate in any way they can. Thank you to the Soder Family



The Australian Poll Dorset Journal

May 2003



(pg 20-21)

US Poll Dorsets redefine ‘standards’

K Bar K farm raises foundation style/traditional/production oriented Dorset sheep, including Dorset rams and Dorset ewes. Raised on a forage based system, selected for true Dorset characteristics. Contact us for a listing of sheep for sale.US Poll Dorset breeders have redefined their breed 'standards', with the Continental Sheep Club moving to accommodate the needs of breeders of ‘Production’ Dorsets . ‘Production’ Dorsets are the older-style ‘traditional’ Dorset noted for carcase, fertility and easy care. They are different to the taller, lighter-bodied Show Dorsets that evolved and  took centre stage in the 1970s.

For Ken and Kathy Soder, K Bar K Farm, Petersburg , Pennsylvania , that’s good news. They are ‘Production’ breeders who record on Lambplan. Ken and Kathy first became interested in breeding sheep in 1991 when they moved to Montana for Kathy to pursue her Master's degree in Animal Science at Montana State University . After finishing her degree they stayed in Montana for two more years, with Kathy working at the Montana Wool Laboratory and Ken building houses. They decided to move home to Pennsylvania for Kathy to pursue a PhD in Animal Science at Penn State . A year after moving home, they bought a 17-acre farmlet and their first sheep - the beginnings of their K Bar K farm.

“At first we had a hard time deciding what breed of sheep to buy,” Kathy recalls. “We both really liked Targhees after working with them in Montana ,but found several drawbacks to this breed in the Eastern US. They were difficult to find and local bloodlines weren't the same as the western sheep.” They were also concerned about their adaptability to the wetter climate. “With the strong ethnic market, we needed sheep to lamb all year round and with the wool market depressed it seemed that a meat breed of sheep that would lamb out of season was the way to go. So we started looking for Dorsets .”

Kathy says the Dorset is used in the US as both a maternal and terminal sire breed. The traditional US Dorset is a moderate-sized sheep with strong mothering instincts, low levels of dystocia, high milking ability and excellent carcase characteristics. The combination of these traits, along with their trademark ability to breed out-of-season, made them popular for year round lamb production, particularly the ethnic lamb market. US ethnic markets demand live, young, milk-fed lambs with plenty of muscling. Dorsets excel at efficiently producing this type of lamb, as well as high-quality traditional slaughter lambs.

As Kathy described it they “lucked” into a lady who was selling her flock and brought home 14 Dorset ewes. “These foundation ewes have worked well for us, and gave us a good start.” Twelve months ago they bought a 96 acre farm about 30 miles south to escape development pressure and obtain more land to expand their flock. “We currently have about 75 Dorset ewes (not including ewe lambs) with plans to expand to 200-300 ewes. “I plan on scanning loin eyes for the first time this year to add to our Lambplan data. “It is a challenge to have this done in the US , as there are few technicians. I am fortunate to be very near Penn State University , who has trained technicians who do this for research projects, and are willing to come to my farm as part of their research.

US Polled Dorsets are stout, meaty, great mothers, out of season breeders. We are striving to maintain these characteristics in our flock say Ken and Kathy Soder. “I am enrolled in Lambplan and have EBVs on all my sheep.”

The ‘Production Dorsets’ Ken and Kathy are breeding do not resemble the modern ‘show’ sheep in the US, but remain true to the ‘Polled’ Dorsets of twenty and thirty years ago. That includes the breed’s ‘out-of-season’ lambing capabilities, superior mothering and strong carcase traits. During the 1970s, the physical appearance of many US Dorsets in the show ring began to change. This split the breed into two types ‘Show’ and ‘Production’. The show animals became taller, longer, and lighter-bodied and, simultaneously, some started to lose their Dorset characteristics.

They needed more feed to mature, increased in size, many would no longer naturally breed out of season, and carcase quality declined. “Production Dorsets are primarily raised on low-input farms that demand an efficient animal that profitably raise lambs year-round with minimal assistance and feed. Only occasionally does one flock fall into both categories successfully.”

Kathy says a large percentage of US commercial flocks have a high percentage of Dorset blood in their ewes. However, commercial producers are wary of seedstock breeding programs that lack true production records or breed type and are not willing to spend much for Dorset breeding stock. At the same time, many commercial producers don’t understand reports generated in record-keeping and selection programs and are not yet willing to pay for such measures.

“On the flip side, given the higher profits often found in the showring, some registered Dorset producers see no need to meet commercial needs. “The challenge we are facing is to convince seedstock producers of the value in producing highly productive Dorsets for the commercial sector and the commercial sector of the added value of buying Dorsets with true production records and capabilities.” She says a handful of US Dorset producers are beginning to use record keeping systems, such as the National Sheep Improvement Program or Lambplan.

Unlike the Show Dorset breeders, who have done an excellent job of promoting their breeding stock, Kathy says many buyers are unaware of the number of Production Dorset flocks available to them. Several efforts are underway to promote ‘Production’ Dorsets . First, an email listserv was developed called Production Dorset Breeders (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ProdDorsetBreeders/) to provide a forum for those breeding expressing interest in Production Dorsets to network. Second, the Continental Dorset Club recently formed a Production Dorset Committee to address the needs of the Production Dorset breeders. Further, individual producers are using the internet to promote their flocks.

In 2001 the membership of the Continental Dorset Club (The US equivalent of the Australian Poll Dorset Association) voted in a new breed standard. This was considered adaptable to all types of sheep enterprises, from the large, full-time commercial producer to the small, part-time purebred flock. The new standard describes ‘ Dorsets ‘ as medium-sized sheep that have good body length and exceptional muscle. A variety of frame sizes and mature body weights are acceptable due to the various nutritional and management regimens in which the breed is expected to excel. “The Dorset is an ewe breed with fall (autumn) lambing characteristics, femininity, prolificacy and great mothering ability,” the standard says.

Dorset ewes should weigh 150-225 pounds and not exceed 34 inches at the shoulder. Dorset rams should weigh 225-325 pounds and not exceed 37 inches tall at the shoulder. The enable breeders to meet the standard, a 100-point score card has been developed.

The head -25 points: The head and should be neat and well covered with wool on the crown and under the jaw. Face should be smooth and open with a moderately broad muzzle of medium length. They should have large nostrils and pink nose and mouth lining. Mouth or nose showing any colours other than pink or black constitutes a ‘highly objectionable’ trait. Eyes should be bright and prominent. Ears should be small to medium in length and size. Ears should be covered with white hair and a small amount of white wool is acceptable. Scurs in polled sheep should not be a point of discrimination. The wool and haired portions of the head should be free from any brown, liver, or reddish coloured spots. Such spots in these areas are highly objectionable traits. A black spot on the nose or mouth is acceptable (not exceeding the size of an eraser head on a standard sized pencil). However, solid pink noses and lips are preferred. In addition a black spot on an ear is acceptable.

Neck-Shoulder-Chest -10 points: A Dorset's neck should be moderate in length, trim and well set with head erect and alert. Rams should show masculinity with a good crest. The neck should be free of wrinkles and or dewlaps. Any dewlaps, wrinkles, and or skin folds should be heavily discriminated against and are considered ‘highly objectionable’ traits. Shoulders should be smooth, oblique, and well laid into the ribs. The chest should be deep ribbed, well sprung, and with width to the chest floor.

Back-Loin-Rump-Leg -30 points: The back should be strong, straight, level and it should carry out to the dock with the tail head fairly high set. The loin should be long, wide, and deep. The rump should be long, wide, level and very well muscled. The leg should be thick through the center extending well into the stifle area and carrying low towards the hock. Emphasis should be placed on total body length in relationship to height at the shoulder. Dorsets should be as long or longer than they are tall. The loin, rump and leg are three important parts of the sheep. Dorsets must excel in these areas having at least 50% of their length in their hindsaddle.

Feet-Legs-Pasterns -20 points: Legs should be well set under the corners. They should be straight, strong, and of ample bone. The forearm area, as well as the rear leg, should show good expression of muscling. The upper leg should be well wooled and covered with white hair below the would area. The leg below the hocks and knees should be covered with white, dense hair and may have a moderate amount of wool with the majority of this wool being on the front of the legs. There should be no shading off to dark colour on the legs or dark coloured spots on the legs. These are ‘highly objectionable’ traits. The feet should point straight ahead and not turn out at an angle. Sheep should have short, strong pasterns. All these skeletal parts should move with strength and correctness when the animal is on the move. A Dorset with a completely black hoof is disqualification. A Dorset with pearl coloured hooves with some black striping is acceptable but hooves with excessive striping is highly undesirable.

Fleece-Skin -8 points: The fleece should be medium fibre, 26 to 32 microns. The fleece should be white and the hair covering on other portions of the animal should be short, white, of medium texture, and free of dark coloured spots. Dark coloured spots in the wool are a disqualification.

Frame 7 -points: Dorsets are medium size sheep that have good length of body and exceptional muscle. The majority of the ewes and rams body length should be from the 13th rib back. Emphasis should be placed on length from the 13th rib back rather than the height of the sheep.

Serious defects should be discriminated against in shows, sales and in flock selection. This includes inverted eyelids; abnormally large tear ducts; absence of hair covering in typical areas -head and feet-legs-pasterns; lack of muscling; weak pasterns; post legged; sickle hocked; cow hocked and splayed feet. Each defect means the total points for that trait is deducted from the score card.

US ‘Polled’ Dorsets originated at North Carolina State College, Raleigh , NC , and were apparently the result of a mutation that occurred in the purebred Horned Dorset flock at the college. After careful research and testing to ensure the Polled gene carried the same characteristics as the Horned Dorsets and were able to propagate these traits, the new strain was accepted into the US registry in 1956. The number of Polled Dorsets now in the country far exceeds the number of Horned Dorsets. The official registry office for Dorset Sheep in the US (both Horned and Polled) is called the Continental Dorset Club. The Club is governed by an elected Board of 6 Dorset Breeders from various parts of the country - giving all areas a representative on the Board. Today, the Continental Dorset Club reports that 10,317 Dorsets (horned and polled) were registered in 2001-2002 by 2100 members. That makes the Dorset the largest whiteface breed registry in the US , second only to the Suffolk .

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K Bar K Farm                                                                                                                                                

Last Updated November 29, 2017

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