Family tradition survives

Multiple generations of Quinns raise sheep


New babies are appearing daily at the Quinn family farm in Edgar Township, and right now twins and triplets are the norm.

It’s lambing time and the Quinn family has their hands full keeping ahead of the ewes as they deliver. Duane Quinn likes to get the ewes near lambing into the barn ahead of delivery and keep them there long enough to make sure they accept the babies, especially in the case of multiple births, then cycle them back to pasture for a new bunch to enter

“Jan. 28 was our first lamb to hit the ground,” said Quinn. “We have 40 more ewes to deliver.”

Only one ewe in the barn Thursday afternoon had a single lamb. The rest were twins and there were three sets of triplets. A set of triplets was born that morning

The Quinn family raises katahdin sheep – a hair breed that does not require shearing. Katahdins do not make wool and like many other mammals shed their winter coats as the weather warms. This breed of sheep is considered a meat animal, and Quinn said while the family does use some of the animals for meat, there is a more practical reason to maintain a flock of 50 ewes and three rams.

“They are on the farm for one reason, and that is to keep the pasture trimmed and clean,” he said.

Family tradition is also part of the equation. Quinn’s mother, Beverly, said the family has raised sheep for 55 years. Her late husband had sheep as a 4-H project but left livestock behind after marriage and moving away from Edgar County for a few years.

When the couple returned, he started raising sheep again.

“Sheep are easier to care for,” Beverly Quinn said, explaining the preference for sheep over cattle or swine, and her children used sheep in 4-H.

“They really started as 4-H projects,” she said about the flock, although a different breed was used back then, before the switch to katahdins.

Four generations were at work Thursday in the barn. Beverly Quinn downplayed her role, and Duane Quinn was cropping the ears of the twins and triplet lambs plus painting numbers on all the animals. Duane Quinn’s son, Jeremy Quinn, and young grandson, Colton Quinn, were performing a variety of chores, including feeding.

The ear cropping and number painting serves an identity purpose. Quinn crops in a way to distinguish between twin and triplet animals. Young females with the cropped ears are easily spotted as possible replacements for older ewes that are declining in reproductive ability.

Numbers painted onto the coat is a visible way to know which lamb, or lambs, belongs to a particular ewe when the animals are in the pasture. Lambs left alone or not thriving are a sign he needs to check the ewe for any problems.

“It tells me whether the mommy is not taking care of it,” said Duane Quinn.

Any ewe that ignores her lamb generally has a short stay in the flock, but there are some exceptions.

Thursday afternoon the family was working with a skittish ewe that claimed only one of her lambs and refused to nurse the other two. Family members held her pinned against the wall of the box stall giving the two hungry lambs a chance to nurse.

“She’s got a black X against her,” said Duane Quinn, noting the ewe did well with her offspring last year, and he might give her another chance. “She’s a young ewe.”

According to Quinn, katahdins frequently have multiple births and that is a good way to rebuild and expand the flock. The ewes also have a reputation as good mothers, although some do reject multiples and that means the family takes on the responsibility of bottle-feeding multiple lambs until they can start grazing. 

Raising and caring for the sheep is a labor of love for the Quinns.

“I’m a farm boy,” said Duane Quinn. “You take my sheep, chickens and donkeys away, and I’d be lost.”