Sheep farming 101: Humble beginnings

Meet Little One.

He’s a Dorset/Suffolk-cross twin ram lamb – and, quite honestly, 2012 has already been a bit of a rough year for him.

After a few months that have felt like an eternal April (it’s not just me saying that), winter swept in with the New Year – literally. A front moved in overnight and transformed rain and unseasonably warm temperatures on Jan. 1 into a frigid, windy snow globe on Jan. 2.

Enter Little One.


Now, it’s almost a given with pasture lambing, that if the weather stinks, sheep tend to have more lambs, and they tend to have them in the most inconvenient places possible. I say this after 2o-plus years of observation. Growing up on a farm with more than 300 sheep and about four lambing seasons a year gives one plenty of data.

December came and went with a whimper, which meant the lambing had also progressed with few problems. We had a snow-free Christmas, which normally makes me crabby, but not this year. As the lambing neared the end, we closed the gate to the upper pastures. Moving ewes and lambs from the back corners of a 100-acre field to the barn quickly loses its appeal, believe me. Remember: inconvenient places.


On the morning of Jan. 2, Mom found two ewes and three lambs at the very back of the lower pasture. When she approached, one, a black-faced Suffolk-cross ewe, left, with a small, brockle-faced lamb trailing behind her (“brockle” is a highly technical term for black spots).

Mom brought the other ewe and the two remaining lambs, one brockle and one white, to the barn. They went into a small pen together.

She went out into the snow globe again to get the other ewe, luring her inside with the little brockle lamb.

Her suspicions grew that the ewe should have not just one lamb, but two. The little white lamb appeared to be the second.

Nevertheless, when the little white one went in with the Suffolk ewe and the brockle lamb, the ewe was not interested – quite uninterested in fact. For whatever reason, she was not about to feed this newcomer.

So it was that Little One came to be in our mudroom.


Lambs in the house. It’s a fact of life on a sheep farm.

Even more so for my family. My parents’ sheep farming began in the early 1970s with a dozen orphan lambs in the kitchen.The business stayed small until we moved from Maryland to Ohio, and my mom took over with the goal of expanding the operation.

Over the years, I sometimes forget not everyone grew up on a working farm. I’ve never not known what it was like As a child, I played with the lambs and other animals and cavorted in the pastures.

Later, I started working there, helping out during lambings, stacking hay bales and mucking out the barn. At the same time, I began showing 4-H lambs at the county fair and started a small club lamb flock.

In hindsight, I shouldn’t be surprised I have a hard time with regular office jobs.

Thankfully, despite my family’s unorthodox entrance to sheep farming, the house is the staging area only on occasion, when a lamb needs a little nudge – a warmup or a few meals to fill its stomach and get it on the right track.

That’s what Little One needed: a couple of nights to warm up and get some meals in his belly. The occasional box jail break aside (see photo above left), he was a model guest.

Once he perked up, we put him back. It took a few days for his mother to be completely comfortable, but soon, she accepted him.

Sheep farming – farming of any kind, for that matter – has its ups and downs. But successes like Little One offset the downs.


4 responses to “Sheep farming 101: Humble beginnings

    • Thanks! It is early for lambs to be born normally, but my family has four or five lambing times a year. Means there are a lot of lambs, all the time. 🙂

  1. “Enter little one” like that

    I came to your blog from Jon Acuff’s site. He has created a tremendous forum for sharing our blogs and impacting more people with them.

    I hope my blog can be an encouragement to you also.

    I write it for encouragement and motivation daily.

    Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to watching the connections grow!

    • Hi Craig, thanks for checking in. I poked around your blog a little – good stuff. I’ll definitely be checking it out. Hope you have a good one!

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