Spring means lambing season!
What is lambing season like? Births are in full swing at Arbormeadow Farm in southern Augusta County. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi paid a visit.
DEB KOONS: I know, you're still – [lamb bleats] yes, I see you! [chuckles] And you are – those are siblings. [lamb runs up] He's coming up to you!
Deb and Ken Koons welcomed the 38th and 39th lambs of the year to Arbormeadow Farm on Friday. That was the first birth for one Coopworth ewe named Molly. When I visited them in the barn, one twin was napping in the straw, and the other was nuzzling her mom.
DEB KOONS: This is the set that was just born about six hours ago. [bleating sounds] … She had twins, and they're a little small. Seven pounds. Most of ours come in at nine, 10, 11, so they're small but she's doing good. She's figuring out how to be a mom.
The Koons's are expecting about 55 lambs in total this season. They brought in an ultrasound operator for the first time this year to give them an idea of which ewes were carrying singles, twins, and triplets, and about when they'd be due.
DEB KOONS: We bring them in and put them in a lambing jug, you know, in a small area, just to make sure everybody's okay. We keep a close eye on them, make sure Mom claims them and everybody's doing well. And after two, three days usually, we ear tag and give some vaccinations, and then they go out with the rest of the flock.
During lambing season, Deb gets out to the barn at 5:30 or 6 in the morning to check on all the new and expectant mothers with a flashlight. If nobody needs help, she and Ken will look in on them every few hours until about 11:30 at night. If it looks then like someone's going into labor soon, Ken goes back out at 2 or 3 a.m. to check on her.
DEB KOONS: We just, we try to just be here, and watching, and let the ewe do her thing, and they're pretty good at it … The first weekend was rough. It was cold. It was windy. You know, we were down in the 20s, and it was bitter. But once the lamb is dry, they can take pretty much anything, so we just get them in and get them out of the drafts and stuff and get the Mom going.
Any time you raise animals, there are moments of both tragedy and beauty, like the story of a ewe named Riley.
DEB KOONS: And this, this young lady – you may not want to hear this story, but she lost her baby, but this guy was struggling with – his Mom's got triplets and he couldn't, he wasn't keeping up. So we got lucky enough, and while she lambed and lost and she was still looking for her lamb, we brought this one in who was orphaned, and said, "how about this one?" … She took him and he's doing really well.
They said the Coopworth breed has earned a reputation as being good mothers. They're also prized for their wool, which ranges in color from a creamy white to a deep, dark charcoal.
KEN KOONS: Our goal, and one of the reasons we switched to Coopworth sheep back in '11, was because we'd always had sheep for 30-plus years now, but we wanted to do something with a breed of sheep that had nice wool that hand spinners would like.
They have a shed stuffed to the brim with hundreds of pounds of fleeces harvested during their annual shearing, which they did all in one day in early March.
DEB KOONS: This is just this year's wool. You can see how we have individual fleeces bagged and tagged. And in order to sell it, we will have to bring, take an individual fleece out, spread it out over what's called a skirting table, and get the edges off, which is going to be the not-as-nice wool, it's going to be dirtier. You just want to kind of keep the prime stuff for your spinners.
Their very first flock consisted of nine sheep they got from the Shenandoah Valley Agricultural Research and Extension Center at the historic McCormick Farm near Steeles Tavern.
KEN KOONS: I came home from work one day –
DEB KOONS: [laughs] Years ago.
KEN KOONS: In the late '80s – '87, '88, and Deb said, "guess what? We're getting sheep."
They said the marketing side of the business is the most arduous – they're both retired, and just really like caring for the sheep. Nowadays, their flock is big enough that they sell most of the lambs – but every once in a while, a new little one earns her place on the farm.
DEB KOONS: Coyote is a girl that … as a lamb, got attacked. We had a coyote issue for about two weeks. We lost four … that was about four or five years ago.
KEN KOONS: '17, I think.
HAGI: Oh, okay, okay.
DEB KOONS: Yeah, yeah. But she was attacked as a lamb. Ken saw it, ran out, the coyote ran off and we saved her. We wrapped her neck and brought her into the barn. She couldn't work – couldn't walk for a few days! Anyway, she survived! And I thought after that, she's staying with us! … She had two nice big lambs this year. She's done well for us. But it was just one of those things that, you fought that battle, you get to stay. [chuckles]
They'll be at the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival with fleeces for sale next month.