RURAL NEW ULM - On Friday, Jan. 29 a baby lamb called "Big Girl" came into this world as a surprise to her mother, a three-year-old ewe.
The ewe needed some help because her baby was born weighing 18.6 pounds ... this is quite large for a lamb considering an average lamb is born weighing about seven to 10 pounds. Big Girl and her mother are part of a flock of sheep belonging to Gene and Cheryl Tauer of rural New Ulm.
During the lambing process Gene usually stays up all night checking on the ewes and the lambs. Cheryl takes care of things during the day.
Gene and Cheryl Tauer stand with their new lamb “Big Girl” (foreground) and her mother. “Big Girl” weighed 18.6 pounds when it was born Jan. 29. The average lamb is about eight pounds at birth.
"I'd been out checking on everybody," said Cheryl, "There was mom in labor and I got her off into an area by herself with a heat lamp ... and after almost a half hour, she was still in labor."
There was only a foot of the baby lamb coming out, Cheryl said.
She hurried to the house to get her husband out of bed to help her with the birth.
"By the time he got out there she was already in labor for 45 minutes which was a long time," said Cheryl, "By then the second foot came out ... so he worked to get the nose and the head out. At that time, we still didn't realize how big she was."
"I got the crown out and I just pulled on the front two legs a little bit," said Gene.
After the baby lamb came out, she was not responding at all, said Cheryl.
'We thought we had lost her," said Cheryl, "All of a sudden she started sneezing and moving her head ... I said, 'Oh, my gosh she's alive."
They left her with the mother ewe. Mama got her baby cleaned up, Cheryl said.
Later that day Gene measured Big Girl at 19 inches tall from the floor to the top of her shoulders. On their home bathroom scale she weighed about 21 pounds. At the vet's office she weighed in at 18.6 pounds.
"Many lambs her size die during birth due to the rib cage being crushed and at times the mother dies, too," said Cheryl, "We feel very fortunate that both mom and daughter are doing well."
Gene is a fourth-generation family member now living on the farm. His great-grandmother had once lived on the farm. His grandfather operated a dairy operation and then his father eventually took over the dairy farm. When Gene started farming he began with beef cattle. In 2007 the farm was called a "Century Farm."
Every day the Tauer Farm bustles with activity ... they raise sheep (35 ewes, two rams, and 20 bottle-fed lambs), and also have three goats, chickens, geese, two dogs named Dodge and Zeus, and several indoor and outdoor cats.
Last year was the first time they tried raising lambs in January. The couple decided to try raising them again this year in January.
"It's economics - with better lamb prices ... that's why a guy does it," said Gene.
The Tauers said they enjoy raising lambs.
"It's a lot more work in January," said Cheryl, "It's a lot colder ... a lot times we'll go out there every couple of hours to see if anybody lambed ... because you gotta make sure they get under the heat lamps and everything. If they're real weak we bring them in the house and get them warmed up and then get them back to mom."
The first-time ewes will usually have just one baby. More experienced ewes will have between two and four lambs, Gene said.
Cheryl spends a lot of her time taking care of and hand-raising the baby bottle-fed lambs.
"I like working with the little ones," said Cheryl.
When people know they have bottle-fed lambs they will call the Tauers.
The couple said they will be buying bottle lambs from now until May and June.
"A lot times your ewes can only support two lambs and if they have triplets or quads, well, then you end up bottle-feeding some of them," said Cheryl.
Sometimes a ewe may get mastitis (an inflammation of the breast or udder) or may go down for some reason - then you would have to bottle-feed the baby lambs, said Gene.
"It's a lot of work ... but, you know, when you see the end result you're really pleased with what you're doing," said Cheryl, "We don't really have any automated systems for feeding the animals because we like being able to go in among them and see ... more ... we do a lot of hand-feeding."
It is important for the baby lambs to get at least a couple ounces of colostrum (the first fluid, rich in protein, secreted by their mother's mammary glands just after birth), before they begin bottle-feeding, said Gene.
"You start out every four hours (bottle) feeding them," said Cheryl.
When they get to be about a week old the lambs are fed every eight hours or so.
The lambs are eventually trained to start feeding on the pails of milk with nipples attached them. The temperature of the milk and how much the baby lambs eat also needs to be regulated so they do not eat too much - the lambs should not get bloated, Cheryl said.
The pails can feed up to 10 lambs at a time.
"When it gets warmer it gets a little tougher because then you gotta add little jugs of ice in with milk to keep it cool," said Gene.
They add old spice bottles filled with ice to keep the milk cold, said Cheryl.
"It's actually easier now to keep the milk cold (during winter) than it is later on," said Gene.
The couple said they do some of their own butchering on their farm as well as smoking their own meats in a smokehouse.
They use their goat's milk and either drink it or make their own goat cheeses.
They have tried making a goat cheese flavored with Italian seasonings.
Cheryl said she has even attempted once making her own butter.
In the summer months the couple plants and tends a large garden with herbs and veggies. They also do their own preserving and freezing of their homegrown foods.
Right now they have farm land that they are renting out to a farmer. They have also kept several acres as pasture land for their animals.