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Short-lived ‘One in a million’ litter of five lambs for Carlins of White Bird

“They’re awesome, doing great!”

A litter of five lambs, born to the Carlins, pictured on Feb. 19.

Credit: Maryann Carlin
A litter of five lambs, born to the Carlins, pictured on Feb. 19.

— It’s a rare event, and it was likely a once-in-a-lifetime experience for sheep ranchers Maryann and Ed Carlin of White Bird, who recently witnessed the birth of quintuplets.

“We’ve had lots of sets of trips this year,” Maryann said, “but we’ve never had four, and especially not five.”

According to sheep industry information, ewes on average give birth to one to three lambs. Ewes produce their largest litters of lambs when they are between the ages of 3 and 6.

The Carlin’s event happened Feb. 19 with one of their older ewes, around age 7 or 8. Last year, this ewe only had one lamb; normally she has twins or triplets, according to Maryann.

“Well, it was difficult,” Maryann said. “I was seeing she was having trouble, and I tried to help her, but I couldn’t, and went and got my husband. When I was there, there was one head. He went down and there were two heads. He pulled one lamb and straightened out the other and pulled.”

“’It looks like trips,’ he said. He went in and his eyes went big. ‘There are two heads here,’ so he pulled two more lambs. ‘Should I check again?’ I said, “You better,’ and there was another lamb.”

Overall the litter was three males and two females — “They were pretty colorful,” she said. “One was black, and we never get black lambs.” — but the event was short-lived as two of these were born dead. However, the first lamb on feet was the runt of the litter.

As of last Thursday, March 29, Maryann reported the surviving three were more than thriving.

“They’re awesome, doing great!” she said. The Carlin’s twins and singles lambs are kept in one pasture, and trips in another so they can give the mother extra grain to raise those three lambs.

The Carlins raise Suffolk sheep on their 13.5-acre property located three-quarters a mile up the old grade from White Bird. They currently have 70 head, and their sheep are sold as butcher lambs and 4-H lambs, with the remainder going to the market.

“Our shearer, John Balderson, a lifelong shearer, says he has never sheared a ewe before that had five lambs,” Maryann said.

There’s no certainty how this litter of five came about, though they normally crossbreed for better gain on their lambs. One factor may have been the 3-year-old buck – a twin himself – the ewe was bred with: “We’ve certainly had an increase in trips with this buck,” she said. But up until now, not five.

“It’s one in a million,” she said.


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