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Multi-Births Galore

In 2009


By Alan Harman


Veteran Michigan sheep farmer Paul Oesterle, 63, of Mason, outside the state capital of Lansing, watched as one of his Suffolk-mix ewes produced five healthy lambs.

Michigan State University sheep manager Alan Culham says there’s only a 1-in-10,000—or higher—chance of a Suffolk-mix ewe bearing quintuplets.

Michigan sheep farmer Paul Oesterle with his quintuplets. (Photo by Candie Oesterle)
Michigan sheep farmer Paul Oesterle with his quintuplets. (Photo by Candie Oesterle)

With those odds, the Michigan quintuplets grabbed the global imagination and the story traveled as far as The Star newspaper in Malaysia, which featured two pictures of the lambs.

“I’m certainly amazed,” Oesterle says. “I never dreamed it was that interesting to all of the world.”

Oesterle says his 42-year breeding policy is paying off big time. Over the years, he has taken care to improve his flock’s genetics, always retaining ewes that produce twins or triplets.

The 60-ewe flock of Suffolk mix has twice before had mothers produce quadruplets.

This year, 43 of his ewes produced 85 lambs, just one short of a 200% return.

The ewe that made her name as a super-mom gave birth to twins last year. The drama started when Oesterle did a regular check of his flock and saw the ewe had two lambs. The next day she had three more. All were healthy.

Oesterle immediately saw his semi-retirement at an end, becoming as busy as a new father as he fed the lambs every six hours because the ewe couldn’t feed all of her offspring.

“She just doesn’t have enough milk to go around,” he says. “I’ve been getting up at 4:00 a.m.”

Jennifer and her dad Nick Fogliano with Dorper quintuplets in their first year of lambing!
Jennifer and her dad Nick Fogliano with Dorper quintuplets in their first year of lambing!

The one major change to Oesterle’s flock management this year was putting a Cheviot ram over the ewes to give the flock some hybrid vigor.

The quintuplets are unlikely to end up as Sunday roasts. In that role, they are worth about $125 each.

But with their genetics and the resulting potential for prolific breeding, Oesterle figures they are likely to sell for about $200 each.

Meantime, Jennifer Fogliano of Dragonfly Pond Farm outside Walton, New York, 140 miles northwest of New York City, watched as one of her flock of 10 Dorpers gave birth to a set of quintuplets in a process that took two hours.

Fogliano knew it was going to be a multiple birth.

“She was so big when she moved she grunted and groaned,” she says of the days leading up to the births.

The ewe gave birth on a cold, rainy night, and Fogliano had fears for the smallest of the lambs, a little ewe she named Lilly, weighing just one pound.

Donald and Ann Hodges submitted this great photo from their farm in Fries, Virginia of "Miss Dollie, cloned the old-fashioned way—birthing five lambs."
Donald and Ann Hodges submitted this great photo from their farm in Fries, Virginia of “Miss Dollie, cloned the old-fashioned way—birthing five lambs.”

With help from Jean McCumber, owner of CMP Dorpers in Sidney Center, New York, the tiny lamb was tucked into a plastic bag, which was zipped up to its neck. The lamb was then placed in a sink filled with warm water to provide it body heat before it was fed.

Now Lilly is a bottle baby that weighs four pounds, wears diapers and lives in the house with Fogliano.

The other four lambs—three rams and a ewe—are outside with their mother, and they are all doing well.

“They have been licking mom’s grain dish and chewing on second-cut hay as well,” Fogliano says. “They are happy babies.”

All of her sheep are either eligible to be registered or already registered.

Before Fogliano bought the ewe, which was one of triplets, it had twins the first time it gave birth and then two sets of triplets in the two years after that.

Now in Fogliano’s first spring lambing, the ewe has outdone herself.

sheep! Vet Check expert Don Bailey, DVM submitted this photo of a "sheep litter" from sheep "Red123" at his Bar None Ranch in Roseburg, Oregon last year.
sheep! Vet Check expert Don Bailey, DVM submitted this photo of a “sheep litter” from sheep “Red123″ at his Bar None Ranch in Roseburg, Oregon last year.

“This is such an abnormality,” Fogliano says. “She is an awesome mom.”

The three ram lambs will be sold.

Fogliano partners with her father Nick Fogliano to operate her flock on the 40-acre organic farm.

“I started my farm in the end of ’07, beginning of ’08,” she says. “I figured out I couldn’t do it alone, so my dad became my partner. My mom helps out where she can as well.” Fogliano’s beautiful business card says, “Home of the Famous Quints.”

The American Dorper Sheep Breeders’ Society, of which Jennifer is a member, says under good range conditions a 150% lamb crop is typical, and rates more like 180% with improved nutrition can be achieved.

The South African sheep can be bred any time of year and lambing intervals of eight months—three lamb crops every two years—is a common practice.





Six Sets Of Quads

Wisconsin sheep producer Barb Salas was up to her knees in lambs this season when her flock of 26 Polypay ewes produced 63 live lambs, including six sets of quadruplets.

Her 242% breeding rate came after she put 22 of the ewes to a composite ram and four ewes to a Coopworth ram.

Just one of the ewes produced a single lamb, while the rest gave birth to twins, triplets or quadruplets.

The four ewes sired by the Coopworth ram produced three sets of twins and a single lamb.

It was her best result in eight years of sheep farming.

“I don’t anticipate it happening again,” she tells sheep! “But I always want more. Now I am looking for better udders and better feet.”

Salas, who raises grass-fed sheep for meat for the direct market, farms at Burnett, 60 miles northwest of Milwaukee. She followed advice to get good stock when she began her business eight years ago and the only introductions to the flock have been rams to widen her genetic base.

Salas says there were exceptional circumstances for her flock this breeding season.

“I only use part of the farm for sheep,” she says. “Part is rented out to a farmer who planted late soybeans. After a frost wrecked the crop, I turned the ewes onto the soybeans, strip grazing them, just as the rams were introduced.

“It’s a good year,” she says. “It may not happen again.”.





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