Here’s Looking at Ewe: It’s Lambing Time at Braintree Family Farm
Linda Doane and her grandson Danny Rand, 12, look in on ewes that have not yet given birth before feeding them at Maple Ridge Sheep Farm in Braintree, Vt. Doane imported the first flock of Shetland sheep, a heritage breed known for their fine wool fiber, in the early 1980s. What started as a hobby grew into a flock of 300 in the 1990s, and now she keeps up to 100 for wool, breeding stock and meat. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
After being roused from sleep by the rumbling of his grandmother’s Muskeg, a vehicle she uses to get around the farm, Danny Rand, 12, heads up a hill to help with morning chores. This is Danny’s second year staying at the farm during spring vacation to help care for the sheep during lambing. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Linda Doane carries away a lamb that was born underweight and died minutes after birth. “Sometimes it’s a broken neck, sometimes they’re just not put together right. That’s the part you don’t like,” she said. “It’s a fact of life. If we’re born, we’re going to die.” (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
A young lamb bounds around an enclosure during feeding time, when they often test their legs and play while their mothers fill up on hay. The lambs are a “constant source of amusement,” said Linda Doane. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
A day-old lamb squirms in Doane’s arms after being weighed and having iodine applied to its umbilical cord to prevent infection as Danny looks on. By the time the lambs are a week old, Doane has watched their behavior and health, examined the quality of their fleece, and decided which will be kept for her flock and which will be sold. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Linda Doane takes advantage of the two days that ewes spend bonding with their lambs to trim hooves, give immunizations and shots of the mineral selenium. This practice helps acclimate the lambs to the handling and care they will receive as they grow. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
A ewe peers out of a hole in her pen at Maple Ridge Sheep Farm in Braintree, Vt. Owner Linda Doane expects as many as 60 lambs to be born into her flock this spring. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Linda and Tuthill “Tut” Doane have been raising sheep on their hilly Braintree farm for more than 30 years. Each season brings its own tasks, and early spring is lambing time.
Tuesday afternoon, Linda Doane pulled on her boots and headed outside to check on the newest member of the flock. The white and tan lamb with a slight wobble in its legs stuck close by its mother, Michelle, a dark brown ewe with a soft black face.
“Good job, Mama,” Doane said, the ewe watching her as she spoke.
Mothers and their newborns stay together in a small pen to ensure good bonding between them, Doane said. After that, they move to a larger fenced-in area.
In the “socialization pen,” a sort of day care for sheep, mothers milled around. The lambs ran and played, occasionally leaping into the air.
“Baa, baa,” they said.
“Baa,” Doane called back at them.
By Thursday morning, 49 lambs had been born. They could have around 60 this season, she said, depending on how many “twinned” or “tripled.”
The flock has changed over the years, but Maple Ridge Sheep Farm is now home to three “heritage” breeds — Shetland, black Welsh mountain and horned Dorset.
While commercial breeds are generally bred for a certain trait, heritage breeds are more like feral animals, Doane said. “If they can’t survive on their instincts and strength, they don’t make it.”
Because they haven’t been “improved,” heritage breeds are said to have retained their instincts, meaning they don’t require much help from humans to survive. Still, Doane checks on the ewes frequently while they are lambing.
“Some need help, some don’t,” she said. “Sometimes the older (ewes) will coach a new lamber. They will talk to them and show them what to do.”
In 1979, the Doanes moved from Long Island to Braintree, where they have been active in the community, working with young people and in local government. Tut Doane is Braintree’s emergency management coordinator, and Linda Doane serves on the Selectboard, the Development Review Board and the Planning Commission. They bought their first sheep, five Romneys and a Finn, in 1980. And then Linda Doane, a spinner, fell in love with Shetland fiber.
“This, to me, is the perfect fleece,” she said. “The texture, the feel. It wants to be spun the way I like to spin.”
After trying to buy some of the sheep, the couple found they were unavailable in the United States. They contacted a Canadian who had recently imported a flock of Shetlands in an effort to help save the breed, then considered endangered. The Doanes visited his Ontario farm and made plans to import the country’s first Shetlands. In 1986, they brought home 105 of the animals.
A number of the lambs stay on the farm, and the rest are sold as pets, or “lawn mowers,” as Doane jokingly called them, or for meat.
Families often travel from Barre and Montpelier to buy the animals for special meals, such as birthday celebrations, she said. “A lot of our customers are Bosnian, and that’s part of their culture.”
Gazing out across the farm at the Braintree Range last week, Doane admired the view. “As many hundreds of times as I’ve looked at it, I don’t tire of it.”
Sheep farming in Vermont is a long leap from New York City living, but in family terms, it’s just a few generations away.
“You come by it naturally,” her mother told her after the Doanes and their children, now grown, had moved to Braintree. As it turns out, Linda Doane’s great-great-grandfather had raised sheep in Brooklyn, near the area that is now Prospect Park.
The lifestyle suits her and Tut, an engineer and inventor who works from home. And it’s a lifestyle they want to maintain.
They avoid chemicals — the garden is fertilized with compost, and the sheep bed down on shredded newspaper, Doane said. “If it isn’t sustainable, it’s not right.”