Little lambs 101
SUNBURY – It’s lambing season at Owens Farm, 2611 Mile Post Road.
In early March, 104 lambs already had been born, with some 30 more ewes expected to give birth, usually to twins, at any time.
This is one of the busiest times of the season.
“You are definitely meeting us at one of the high labor times of the year. We do have to check around the clock,” said Caroline Owens, co-owner, wife and mom of three human kids at the farm.
Carrying two plastic buckets, she walked to the side of a big red barn that stands on the 212-acre farm. She stepped onto some wide, wooden planks and disappeared inside.
Suddenly the fenced-off pasture outside the barn came alive with loud bleating from the sheep – lots of bleating. The sheep swarmed into the yard and ran to a cement feeding trough, calling for Caroline to bring the feed.
She came down the planks and emptied her buckets.
While the sheep chomped away at their corn, the tiny lambs – some of which are weeks old, others only hours – began to romp around and play in groups. Running and wildly kicking their back legs every so often, the lambs stopped to bleat for their mothers, then went back to playing again.
“They are showing off for you,” Caroline said.
Owens Farm sits atop rolling hills off of a rural road in the countryside between Sunbury and Danville.
Its scenery is broken up by small patches of wooded areas, but the barns and farmhouse overlook the pastures where the family – husband Dave, Caroline and their children, Melissa, 14; Kevin, 16; and Kyle, 18 – work the farm all year long.
Grass-fed Katahdin hair sheep, Coopworth sheep, Tamworth piglets, chickens, a few horses, cows, border collies and a few barn cats call the farm home, too.
In 1992, the Owenses lived in New Hampshire on a small farm. They moved to Pennsylvania in 2008.
“It was just so successful, we outgrew the 13-acre farm,” Caroline said.
Caroline always had been involved with agriculture, even during her high school years. She worked as a vocational agriculture teacher and received degrees from Cornell University and Boston University.
Dave, she said, became interested in an independent lifestyle through alternative methods of agriculture. He now works as a engineer and runs his own database and software consulting business. He also is a beekeeper on the farm.
After the two started the farm in New Hampshire and began raising their own food and animals for meat, neighbors became interested.
“They would come to us and say, ‘If you are raising a pig, could you raise one for me and (if there are) any extra lambs, I would like to buy one,'” Caroline said.
Animals at Owens Farm are raised with no chemicals, no growth hormones and are grass-fed.
Raising non-commercial foods isn’t the only thing done at the farm.
The Owenses have a drive to educate those who want to learn what life is like on a real, working farm.
“It’s the sheep camps, adopt-a-sheep program and lambing slumber parties … anything we can do to show the people what goes on behind the scenes,” she said.
The educational aspect evolved for the Owenses while they were home-schooling their children back on the New Hampshire farm.
Groups in the home-schooling community began to ask for tours. Caroline said it made sense to begin educational tours for others, too.
For instance, during lambing season in the late winter weeks of February and the beginning of March, the farm holds Lambing-Time Slumber Parties.
Participants come to the farm, check for newborns at night and in the early morning and even watch them being born. They help care for the new lambs and their mothers and sleep in the barn.
“They see the whole gamut from taking care of the lambs and helping when there is trouble,” she said, “even just walking through a flock of sleeping sheep. It’s not all about the learning – some of it is about a unique experience.”
Sheep Camp, a hands-on interactive learning experience, is offered for kids ages 7 to 12.
Each middle school-aged participant gets his or her own sheep for the weeklong camp.
“The kids do a lot of activities that, to the child, is fun, but there is actually learning involved,” Caroline said.
The camps teach subjects such as animal science and fiber arts. Participants will weave, dye and spin the wool of their sheep or learn how it digests foods with its four stomachs.
An obstacle course with the sheep helps show how to work with the animal and “get inside its head.”
“Kids who come to the camp usually have not grown up on farms and this is their first experience with livestock,” she said.
Such interactive education gives children the chance to experience a farm lifestyle and to learn about themselves.
“At some point, all these kids are going to make decisions on what they want to do with their life, career and hobbies. If the kid thinks he is interested in animals and determines he really is, I hope that will further him on his path and career choices,” Caroline said.
The Adopt-A-Sheep program is a pretty unique offering at Owens Farm. Families or individuals are assigned a sheep and they can follow the life of that specific sheep while it lives on the farm.
“The sheep stays here and the family comes to visit. We set up scheduled field trips when significant things happen,” Caroline said. “For example, if we are going to bring them all in with the border collie and do foot trimming (the children are invited).”
The sheep adopters get hands-on experience helping out caring for the sheep when they visit.
“Shearing, that is a biggie. They get to keep the sheep’s wool and when the sheep has a lamb, they get an email saying, “Just had twins! Come and visit,’ ” she added.
Most of the farm visits come from local families that have adopted sheep, but Caroline said there are out-of-state residents who also have adopted sheep.
“Everyone gets letters once a month. It’s like a sheepy penpal,” she said.
Public education also is important to the family. The farm hopes to show where food comes from and how it is raised there.
A Build-Your-Own Farm tour offers a selection of activities from throughout the farm.
“From a personal standpoint, we feel like it brings a lot of meaning to us to pass on the knowledge (of farming) to others that would want to do it themselves,” she said. “(We are happy to share) the awareness to the consumer and for the little children to be exposed to all of this, to know where food comes from, and (hoping) that they are going to pass that onto other generations.”
Owens Farm also gives farmer-to-farmer workshops, lambing clinics, sheep 101 and pasteurized pork workshops.
“We are trying to help people get started so more people will be successful in having small farms, and (so) that small farms are available to the consumers,” she said.
“We think its important to be transparent. People have their dentist, doctor, auto mechanic and nowadays I would encourage them to have their farmers,” she said.
Owens Farm also raises and sells meat and honey.
For more information, see www.owensfarm.com.