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Lambs mean sleepless nights for north Iowa family

ORCHARD, Iowa (AP)--A bitter late January day is made more frigid by wind and snow sweeping the north Iowa countryside.

It's death out there without good shelter.

Newborn lambs have few worries at Don and Shelly Counsell's farm. It's 42 degrees, calm and sweet in their hay-bound pens.

Lambs not snuggling with Mama race to join colleagues under a warm light.

They are quick little buggers--shadows flashing around your feet.

"The best is right here," Don says. "This is the best time of year, when they start having lambs. It's fun to watch 'em grow."

Don has raised black-faced Suffolk-Hampshire sheep since 1980. The 1984 Riceville High School alumnus graduated from four sheep to 12 to 25.

"Next thing we know, we had 100," he says.

And here's yet another lambing season--which, despite sleepless nights, can make him smile.

"It's about like everything. You either like it or you don't," Don says. "From January through March, they'll keep you hopping. It'll keep you about as busy as you want it to."

This year's first lambs were born Jan. 18. The Counsells had more than 20 late in the month, including four sets of triplets.

Newborns arrive about every other day through mid-March. Each gets a vitamin and tetanus shot during that first week. They start out drinking mama's milk and move on to lamb "starter" feed at about two weeks.

"Once they get milk," Don says, "they're pretty happy."

It's easy to get attached. Don and Shelly's son Cole, 11, named his favorite lambs Minnie, Squirt and Sugar.

Cole's brother Derek, 13, has bottle-fed a triplet born to a white ewe.

"He kind of comes up to me now, kind of thinks he's going to get a bottle or something," says Derek, an outgoing Minnesota Vikings fan well-dressed in Carhartt coveralls.

He's had sheep since age 6 or 7 and has many grand champion awards to show you.

"I kind of like to get outside and be with the sheep and stuff," Derek says. "At least I can get out and do something, instead of being cooped up."

The Counsells seem to enjoy this lambing life.

Among the knick-knacks in their rural Orchard home is a wooden plaque in the restroom.

The plaque bears one word, pronounced in familiar fa-a-a-shion:


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