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Minnesota farmers counting sheep: Quadruplets for second year in row join triplets, twins

Frank and Debra Vogeltanz hold the quadruplet lambs born April 30 on their farm north of Laporte, Minn. This is the second set of quadruplets in two years. Sarah Smith / Forum Communications Co.

PARK RAPIDS, Minn. - The bleats from all corners of the dusty pen are appropriately timed.

"Maaa. Maaa. Maaa."

On this Mother's Day, the ewes on the Vogeltanz farm north of Laporte are busy.

For the second year in a row, Frank and Debra Vogeltanz have a set of quadruplet lambs, lots of sets of triplets, and they've lost count of the twins.

"We have 56 lambs so far," Debra says.

None of the ewes have given birth to a single lamb in the past two years. They've all been multiple births. The mom of the quads started the birthing process at 1:30 a.m. April 30. It was Debra's night to watch the flock. The ewes were 85 percent done birthing.

The mom of last year's quads had dropped triplets this year. Debra wasn't expecting a long night.

Dead-tired and cold, Debra was going back to bed at 4:30 a.m., thinking there were more triplets in the barn.

"Just as I was going in, another one starts to land," she said. "She's a good mom," having birthed triplets last year, she said, patting the ewe on the head.

Frank came to the barn to check on his wife. He'd already predicted the quads last year were a fluke. "I see there's triplets," he said that morning. "I told Deb it ain't gonna happen," he said of the 2010 quads.

"Count again," Debra suggested.

Frank has no idea what to attribute all the multiples to, for the third year in a row. Two years ago, a ewe gave birth to twins, one snow-white, the other dark as coal. That seemed to kick off a trend.

"I'm at a loss to figure it out," he said.

"It's the ram," Debra suggested.

All the moms and multiples are kept in a pen near the barn, watched for ailments and given medication and an occasional bottle of milk to aid their growth.

The pen gives them room to run, or spring like mini jack-in-the-boxes, but a grassy field would be great, the couple says.

"It's been so cold at night the grass is slow to come," Frank said. "We haven't turned them out yet."

Moms and lambs are painted with numbers identifying them, but it's no problem from the kids' point of view. Once released from human hands, the lambs race over to their moms. No ID necessary.

Mostly the numbers are for Frank and Debra to identify which lambs have been hand-fed.

Sarah Smith writes for the Park Rapids Enterprise