Sheep quintuplets beat the odds

Sheep quintuplets beat the odds


SHOREVIEW, Minn. – Many shepherds can relate to the joy of new lambs on the ground. But each shepherd has his or her unique stories of newborn lambs and individual strategies for giving lambs a solid start. Kathy Chinderle’s story is one for the books and can be learned from.

Chinderle lives in the small town of Ash Grove, Missouri. She woke up early one day this past spring to feed and take care of her animals just like any other day. Little did she know it was going to be a day to remember.

That day Chinderle went to the barn and noticed one of her ewes lambing. She watched the first lamb be born. Then, every five minutes, another lamb was born. In 20 minutes, she had four lambs. Chinderle said she was pleased and excited because she had never had quadruplets. Then the seemingly impossible happened — her ewe gave birth to a fifth lamb.

Only one in 1 million ewes will give birth to quintuplets, and it has never been reported that all five survived. To beat the odds and help the five lambs thrive, Chinderle looked to proven lamb-nutrition and -management practices. She ensured the lambs received colostrum and selected a lamb-specific milk replacer to provide the nutrients they needed. The choices she made helped start the lambs toward a productive future.

Just like all lambs, the first few days were the most challenging for the quintuplets. In fact industry estimates suggest that 20 percent of lambs die before weaning, with most of the deaths happening before the first 10 days of life. Tom Earleywine, director of nutritional services for Land O’Lakes Animal Milk Products Co., said that early stage of life is when lambs are most vulnerable, having not fully developed their immune systems.

“Colostrum, or the first milk of lactation, is an essential step in providing this first protection to newborns,” Earleywine said. “We compare colostrum to ’liquid gold,’ because it is the only method by which lambs can receive protective antibodies at birth.

“Not all colostrum is created equally, though. Colostrum quality can be impacted by the age and health of the ewe, environmental conditions and many other factors. To ensure lambs receive the quality colostrum they require, be sure to test colostrum with a colostrometer or refractometer, or feed a high-quality colostrum replacer labeled for lambs.”

After Chinderle ensured the quintuplets had received enough colostrum her next step was to find a quality milk replacer.

“This distinction is important, because, when scientifically compared, the nutrient levels in ewe’s milk are distinctly different than cow’s or goat’s milk,” Earleywine said.

Early nutrients are important because they set the stage for long-term performance. For instance, in the dairy-cattle industry, feeding quality nutrition to calves from day one has been shown to impact lifetime milk performance. Researchers have found that calves fed to a higher plane of nutrition calve 22 days earlier on average and produce 1,700 pounds more milk in their first lactation. Eight university trials show that calves fed a higher plane of nutrition from birth to weaning had higher milk production in their first lactation than those that were not.

“This research shows that solid nutrition paves the way for a productive future,” Earleywine said. “This is great news for both the miracle quintuplet sheep in Missouri and dairy-sheep producers across the country.”