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Sheep Aids: Family caring for rare quintuplet lambs

Don Wilkins
Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer
Chuck and Anne Hagan, left and daughter Emma Grant, hold their quintuplet lambs as they take care of them on their farm in Whitesville, Ky. The Hagans have been giving round-the-clock attention to five lambs (three males and two females with the names Bertha, Banjo, Red, Markie Mark and Peanut) that were born on Feb. 12.

OWENSBORO, Ky. (AP) – Chuck and Anne Hagan never imagined they would be caring for quintuplets.

But in a cozy room of their Whitesville home, the Hagans have been giving round-the-clock attention to five lambs — three males and two females with the names Bertha, Banjo, Red, Markie Mark and Peanut — that were born on Feb. 12.

And when it comes to sheep, quintuplet lamb births are rare. In fact, many online agriculture resources refer to it as "one in a million."

Since 2006, the Hagans have been raising dorper and katahdin breeds to help with mowing.

Along with shedding their own wool, another characteristic is that they're not known to carry more than triplets.

"For the most part, ours have always had twins," said Chuck Hagan, who has delivered his share of lambs into the world. "We've had about three sets of triplets over the years."

But even with triplets, it's common, the Hagans said, for not all of the three to survive, which makes it special to have five still living.

They give significant credit to Dr. Steve Hampton, a veterinarian with Heritage Animal Hospital in Morgantown, who delivered the lambs via C-section.

"I truly believe he's the reason why they're alive," Anne Hagan said. "We're very, very thankful for Dr. Steve."

According to the Hagans, Hampton is one of the few veterinarians in the region who treat livestock.

Chuck Hagan drove the ewe to Hampton's office in Morgantown after realizing the mother was in distress and acting differently from other ewe pregnancies he'd experienced.

Hampton said the ewe was suffering from a condition called pregnancy toxemia.

"It's basically a negative energy balance and that's usually associated with triplets," Hampton said. "So we suspected that she had at least two if not three lambs. A ewe having triplets needs about 2 1/2 times as much energy as a ewe having a single. So it's just hard for them to meet those energy requirements, especially in cooler weather when they're having to expend energy just to maintain body temperature."

Going into the delivery, Hampton wasn't anticipating finding more than three.

"They teach you in vet school to always go back in and look for one more; so that sticks with you," Hampton said. "…I kind of expected that third one but then I thought I'd better go check one more time; I found some legs and found a fourth and got it going. I thought well, if there's a fourth, I guess there could be five. I went back in, found another one and then, of course, I checked one more time and didn't find anymore."

Hampton added that in his 25 years as a practicing veterinarian he had never come across quintuplet lambs.

"Five is very rare and for all five to survive is not heard of very often," Hampton said.

Although the quintuplet lambs survived, their mother, however, died two days after the delivery as a result of the pregnancy toxemia.

Since bringing the lambs home, the Hagans have become surrogate parents. They've been bottle feeding the quintuplets four to six times a day, using a lamb milk replacer, which is made from a powder. They've also been using homeopathic medicines or natural remedies to treat the lambs to help them grow stronger.

The addition of the five lambs brings the Hagans' flock up to 33.

"By March or April, they should be healthy as they can be and running in the fields," Chuck Hagan said.