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The fourth times the charm

Fri, Apr 18th, 2003
Posted in Features

Signs of spring were popping up all over the barnyard recently at the Paul and Cindy Lorius farm seven miles south of Cherry Grove. It's peak lambing time and the Lorius' herd of Suffolk sheep is growing by leaps and bounds. In fact, one of the couple's best breeding ewes recently gave birth to a set of quadruplets, something quite rare in the sheep-raising business.

Cindy and Paul got their start when they joined friends in a business partnership back in 1998, purchasing six registered ewes. In 2000, the Lorius's decided to buy out their friend's share of the small herd.

"Our main purpose was to have sheep that our girl's could show in 4-H," Cindy said. But as their herd continued to multiply and their passion for raising sheep increased, the part-time hobby turned into a full-fledged family project involving 14-year old daughter Lindsay and 11-year old daughter Hannah. According to their parents, the girls are valuable hands on the farm, especially during lambing. "Lindsay actually sets her alarm for 2 a.m. so she can go outside to check if any babies have been born," Cindy said. The family also relies on a wireless intercom system strategically placed in their home from February to April, when the majority of babies are born.

"A ewe makes a certain sound when they're ready to give birth," Paul said. When they get the signal, family members make a beeline to the barnyard to help new mothers, if needed, and to corral the new family safely inside a birthing stall in the barn.

For Paul, an electrician by trade, lambing time is exhausting, yet exhilarating.

"Twenty-seven ewes dropped out of 32 in just a two-week stretch," Paul said. "You don't get much sleep around here then."

According to his wife, Paul dotes on his sheep and takes a lot of extra time with each ewe as it gives birth to make sure things go perfectly. Lambing season is the critical time when sheep producer skill, effort, and concern determine the success of the entire operation. "I hate losses," admitted Paul, who hasn't lost a single ewe this year. Unfortunately for Paul, he was absent when the last two lambs from the rare quadruplets were born late in February. "I missed it," he said. "After the first one hit the ground I brought the ewe to the barn and then the second one was born. Paul then dutifully drove his daughter to town for drivers training. Cindy took over from there. "I could tell she still had another baby inside -- and soon it was out," she said. As Cindy started to dry off the third lamb, yet another baby was born. "I just started countig-one, two, three, four!

"I was bummed out I missed it, after all those long nights," said Paul.

Since the rare birth, the entire Lorius family has shared in the raising of the babies, giving them supplemental bottle feedings during the first weeks.

"I like bottle feeding -- the lambs become good friends with you," said Hannah. The seasoned mother, however, has taken on her newest challenge with as much zeal as in the past. "The first year she was bred she had twins, the second year triplets, the third year twins again and now quadruplets," said Paul. "She's a really good mother," added Cindy. "She's one of my favorites."

As the Lorius's flock continues to increase (they currently have 60 ewes, 2 rams and 74 new lambs), so is their knowledge of raising and caring for the Suffolk breed. Detailed medical and lineage records are kept on the sheep, including weight, type of birth and how well a mother took care of her babies.

We're relatively new to all of this and are kind of learning as we go," Paul said.

Cindy said that raising sheep fits well into their family's lifestyle. "We both have off-the-farm jobs that are flexible, we love raising our kids in the country and we find that sheep are easy to raise and fit well into our schedule," she said.

For most folks, that last stretch of early spring waiting for the last snow to melt can be a rather dull time of year. But it's one of the most exciting at the Lorius farm.

It gets so busy around here with all the babies -- it's just a fun time for all of us," Cindy said. It's second only to fair time in July when Lindsay and Hannah get to show off their skills in the sheep arena at the Fillmore County Fair.

Although the Lorius's are keenly aware of current market prices, the health benefits of lean meat and the value of a well-built breeding ram, raising sheep is more than a sound business venture for the family. "This is something that lets us spend time together -- the whole family gets involved," Cindy said.

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