Local sheep farm MULTIPLES
Bottle babies are a common sight at the Sorenson sheep farm
by John Grones | March 4, 2001
The expression, ‘In like a lamb’, is a common expression for mild weather on the first day of March. For one local sheep farm, the expression, ‘In like a lamb’, would be a perfect description for the past three weeks.
The Rusty and Betty Sorenson family has been quite busy with their sheep. Spring is lambing season and this year has been unlike any other. Within a day and a half four of their ewes gave birth to multiple lambs. They had two sets of quadruplets and two sets of triplets. “That was the day I lost it,” said Betty.
Normally, ewes will give birth to twins and according to Rusty and
Betty, multiple births present some challenges. First of all, most ewes only have enough milk to support two lambs. This means bottle feeding and unfortunately, early on, feeding must occur every hour. Nurturing is very important and in many cases multiple births have a lower percentage of survival.
This is the first year the Sorensons have had a set of quadruplets survive. They usually have one set every year. Their success this year can be attributed to a team effort. Fortunately, the Sorenson’s can turn to neighbor Jessie Hooper who enjoys bottle feeding lambs. She has been helping local sheep farmers for four years, two of them with Sorenson’s lambs.
When the first set of quadruplets arrived, Betty determined that the ewe appeared to have a sprained foot and decided to leave just one lamb on her. As for the other three, two of them went to Jessie and one fell under the care of young Kaija Sorenson.
Kaija immediately took to nurturing the lamb, affectionately called ‘Trouble’, in the Sorenson home. They set up a dog cage and the family took turns nursing the lamb. At one point, the lamb reached a critical point, but Kaija continued to hug the lamb for a couple of hours and Trouble bounced back.
The two lambs that went to Jessie Hooper’s home were also cold and stressed. “I didn’t think they would make it,” said Jessie. “I got up every hour during the night and kept a heating pad on them.”
The persistence paid off and both lambs survived. This was pretty exciting, because it was the first time that quadruplets survived at the Sorenson farm. As for the other set of quadruplets born the next day, one was stillborn, but the other three are healthy.
The Sorensons have a breed of sheep called Dorsets, and multiple births are not as common as in another breed known as Fins. The Fin breed has focused more on multiple births. Dorsets, on the other hand, can expect one or two lambs and about a 5 to ten percent chance of triplets or quadruplets.
The reason for the Sorensons explosion of multiple births has been tough to pinpoint. According to Carlton County Extension agent Troy Salzer, it may have something to do with the process called flushing. “Flushing involves raising the nutrition levels during the breeding season to support fetal growth,” said Troy. “Sheep tend to reabsorb the fetus if nutrition levels are low.”
Regardless of what the answer is, the Sorensons are getting more than the average 1.5 lamb per ewe. Of their 23 ewes, they have 39 lambs thus far. That equates to a 1.7 lamb to ewe ratio.
The extra lambs may come with a few complications, but the Sorenson family thinks it is all worth it. The sheep business is for the kids, explained Betty. All four children, Alyssa, Myles, Beau, and Kaija are involved with the sheep. Alyssa is the oldest and has won trips to the Minnesota State Fair with her animals.
As for any chance of having an award winning animal from their sets of multiple births... probably not. Betty felt the ewes that had them were pretty small.
So what’s next... quintuplets (5)? According to Troy Salzer, there has only been one set that he’s aware of. Who knows, maybe the Sorenson’s will have five next year. If they do, they know where to turn for help.
This article first appeared in the March 4, 2003 issue of the Voyageur Press.