Winter Is a Busy Time for Farms Welcoming Newborn Animals
The Temple family will prioritize their farm’s responsibilities this winter as they have since 1843: by putting the animals first.
As a child, Brad Temple says he sometimes awoke to find a chilled newborn calf warming in the basement or a chilled lamb in a box next to the hot water radiator.
“That’s how I grew up. You never knew in the wintertime what you may find,” says Brad, the farm’s fifth-generation owner who raises sheep and grows corn and soybeans with sons, Ben and Bryan, in LaSalle County. “Taking care of the animals was always job No. 1.”
The Temples uphold that philosophy today at their sesquicentennial farm where these shepherds sacrifice sleep to care for their flock of expectants ewes. By January, the family enters lambing season, when their 65 purebred Montadale and Southdown ewes – female sheep – give birth to singles, twins and, occasionally, triplets.
“It’s a busy time of year, and every day is like Christmas,” says Brad, who serves as a director on the Illinois Farm Bureau Board. “Every time you walk into that barn with that many ewes, you more than likely will have a brand-new baby sitting there.”
Calving, Lambing Demand 24/7 Care
His son, Bryan, 25, often takes the night shift. He checks the family’s 130-year-old barn through the night and separates ewes into pens if a birth appears imminent. Bryan may help with the birthing process or assist a newborn lamb struggling to nurse, all in efforts to ensure a healthy start to life. In the event a ewe doesn’t have enough milk to feed her babies, a lamb may need bottle-feeding, creating demands similar to that of a newborn child who needs to be fed frequently.
See more: Farm Facts About Raising Cattle
Sleep? Bryan laughs at that question like a new mother. The ewes often lamb in the middle of the night or in the early morning.
“There is no sleep schedule; it’s all scattered out,” says Bryan, who leaves his warm bed to enter the night’s freezing temperatures. “I’ll stay up until 11 o’clock watching a Western and walk out to the barn and look. If nothing’s lambing, I’ll go to sleep and go out again in three hours.”
Night Class Observes Birthing Livestock
Avoiding sleep is a class requirement for a unique nighttime course at Illinois State University (ISU). Even with that caveat, demand outpaces the 30-student enrollment cap for ISU’s Parturition Management course, in which professors train students to observe and care for cows, ewes and sows giving birth to calves, lambs and piglets.
A student’s 12-hour shift starts at 6 p.m. and ends at 6 a.m. when farm staff are off duty. Any student on the ISU campus can enroll in the course. In fact, the vast majority who do have no farm background, regardless of whether that student comes from a small rural town or a Chicago suburb.
“From my perspective, one of the most important and often overlooked benefits of this class is getting the students more experience on a livestock operation in general,” says Justin Rickard, associate professor of animal science at ISU. “If it’s 20 degrees at night and inclement weather, the students still have to go out and check the animals. That experience alone is often an eye-opener for many of them and has changed their perspective on the production ag sector in a good way.”
Experience Best Teaching Tool
ISU’s farm in McLean County cares for about 120 cows and heifers (first-time mothers) that will give birth to calves in February and March. Lambing season runs a similar schedule, so students will check on both cows and ewes when the calving and lambing seasons overlap. Between checks, they may choose to study or nap on cots in the barns. The observation of farrowing, or the birth of piglets, occurs throughout the spring semester.
“It’s a unique opportunity, and I’m pretty proud of it,” says Rickard, who grew up on a livestock farm in McLean County. “You can explain to someone what something feels like, but it’s a different scenario when they experience it on their own for the first time.”
These experiences otherwise prove difficult to teach, as the Temples can attest. Brad’s sons grew up witnessing the miracle of birth yet also learned that not every animal makes it. Some animals require extra care to make sure they do. Healthy outcomes measure the season’s success and satisfaction.
“My favorite part is when you get the lambs started on creep feed – the starter feed – and they start to bloom,” Bryan says. “It makes it all worth it.”