BALATON - There comes a time every lambing season when she's ready to quit, Esther Evens said. But seeing a flock of healthy lambs and ewes makes up for the exhausting work.
Evens works at the Prairie Home Hospice in Marshall, but she also raises sheep at her farm north of Balaton. Although she has help from her mother and other family and friends, it's often a one-woman operation.
"I tried to think of something a single person could do," Evens said, laughing. She thought sheep fit the bill.
Photo by Deb Gau
Esther Evens says hello to some of the spring lambs in her flock. Although she has help from family and friends, taking care of the sheep is often a one-woman job for Evens.
Evens said a friend, Steve Prairie, helped her get a flock started while he was getting out of sheep farming.
"He gave me about 12 older ewes, and he had some lambs from those ewes," she said. "I probably wouldn't have gotten started if it wasn't for him."
Over the past several years, the flock has grown to about 130 ewes. This spring, there were 300 lambs born, she said. Multiple births are a lot more common for her ewes than they were for the sheep on the family farm when she was growing up.
Lambing season in February and March is by far the busiest time of the year, Evens said. Feeding and caring for the mother sheep and newborn lambs, and training lambs to drink from a bottle and later a pail, is almost a 24-hour job.
"My mom comes over and stays with me" to help, Evens said.
By early summer, however, the lambs are big enough to have the run of the pasture.
"Sometimes they have lamb races. They'll run from the barn to the field, back and forth, back and forth," Evens said. Evens said the lambs can become very tame, especially the bottle-fed ones.
"It's funny. Sheep know their masters," she said. One of this spring's lambs even earned a name from his habit of following Evens around.
"My niece named him Buddy," she said.
After a while, Evens said, she can recognize the ewes by their faces, too.
"Some of the older ewes, when I take them to market, I feel bad about it, because they've given me lambs," she said. But there's still the farm and the younger sheep to take care of.
"Every year I say I'm not going to do sheep again," Evens said, just because she's so tired after lambing. "But I do like to see the lambs being born."