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Laporte farm has 26 sets of multiple births

Frank Vogeltanz holds the quadruplet lambs born on his farm north of Laporte April 29. The quads are among the 26 sets of multiple births the sheep have had this spring. None of the ewes has had a single birth yet. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)1 / 2
Frank and Debra Vogeltanz paint each lamb and ewe, assigning them numbers so they don't get separated in the herd. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)2 / 2

Unexpected occurrences began last year at the Frank and Debra Vogeltanz farm north of Laporte.

Jamal, the white ewe, gave birth to twins.

No big deal, right?

One was pitch black, the other white as last weekend's snow.

This year the couple may have set a new record for oddities.

Their sheep have not had a single birth all season.

If we do a head count, there are Sadie's quadruplets, four sets of triplets and 19 sets of twins.

That made 54 lambs in the herd when the quads were born April 29.

But then you have to add the five born early Friday morning, the triplets and another set of twins, for 59 total. We're losing count.

"They're really cute," Debra said last week, showing off the quads.

The foursome had just been moved into a grass pen. They were jumping around as if their hooves were spring-loaded. All four frolicked until they were tuckered out.

Sadie, meanwhile, kept a watchful eye on her brood, seemingly doing a constant head count. Does she know she has four new kids?

"I imagine if we took one away, she'd miss it," Frank said. "Can you count to four?" he asks Sadie.

Even Debra wasn't sure Sadie had all four.

"When she dropped the fourth one I went out to look for the other mother," she said. Sadie was the only ewe giving birth that day.

Frank grew up with sheep. His family's ranch south of where he now lives had 1,000 head.

"It was our living in the 1950s," he said.

He and Debra both have careers so the sheep, part Dorset, part Southdown, are more of a growing hobby. But the breeding stock must be top notch judging from the spring births.

The couple occasionally sells a small herd of ewes to someone wishing to start a sheep operation. The rams are shipped out.

Frank sells mounds of black dirt, with or without sheep manure. The manure is so high in ammonium nitrogen, gardeners have to be careful not to burn their annuals using it.

"The sheep keep it groomed," he says proudly, pointing to his newborn lambs climbing a dirt hill eating the greens off the silt.

"You should see them at the end of the day," he said.

They're sooty and played out from romping in the clouds of dust they kick up.

What's the secret of the Vogeltanz's success?

"We feed them a good second cutting of hay, salt and minerals," Frank said. "They get good care."

The quads are being fed by Sadie but each get a bottle a day to supplement what milk she can't produce.

Last Thursday many of the newborns and moms got "branded" with special sheep paint. When you have so many multiples, it's easy to get lost in the crowd, the couple explains. This way, if the lambs get separated from the ewes, a quick reunion is all in the numbers.

But as the lambs grow, the numbers expand on their growing hides and the couple admits, by summer's end, their markings are harder to read.

"Is that a 13 or a 14?" Frank asks.

Rosie the border collie keeps a watchful eye on all the sheep pens. If Frank or Debra has to travel between the pens to move the herd around, Rosie guards the gate, rounding up stragglers or an intrepid lamb trying to make a break for it.

As the quads grow, the farmyard is alive with the sound of bleating. It resembles dozens of babies crying for attention. Ewes look like their heads are on swivels, pivoting 360 degrees to see if the sound is coming from one of their young. Who could tell in this racket?

But during the Mother's Day holiday, what brings out the maternal instinct more than a crying infant? Or 59?

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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