Lambs making weight gains at Alcona HS

LINCOLN – Four lambs are putting on weight at Alcona High School, despite their rocky birth a few weeks earlier broadcast live-like reality TV.

These new stars of “Ewe-Tube” trotted gleefully around their indoor pen Tuesday as Hannah Terpstra attempted to corner them for a photo op. For one ewe to give birth to four offspring is unusual, she said. The same ewe, named Gwen, is prolific, however, and produced three babies at the high school last year.

Terpstra has been guiding the care of the 4-year-old Polypay ewe and another ewe for months as part of an FFA training program in the school’s agriscience shop.

The class is one of her favorites.

“It’s not like reading a book or doing homework,” she said. “It’s about seeing the process of life.”

Terpstra rushed to the school on Jan. 21, when the building was closed due to weather. From her computer at home she could see Gwen was going into labor and got her father, history teacher Terry Terpstra, to give her a ride.

The owner of the $350 ewe, Amanda Swinson, also was watching from Ohio, where she is going to college. Swinson founded the ewe program when she was a senior last year at the high school.

The first lamb was delivered without a hitch, Terpstra said.

Then trouble began.

“Gwen would lay down and start pushing and nothing would come out,” Terpstra said.

With her father nearby, Terpstra put on a glove and examined the womb, but said she didn’t feel anything. So after some anxious hours, she called horse breeder Nancy Beck for help.

“I was a little scared, because I had never done this before,” Terpstra said.

When Beck arrived, she knew what to do, because she has helped her horses to deliver foals.

“No. 2 and No. 3 were tangled and I had to actually reach inside up to my shoulder to find them,” Beck said. “They were way, way, way inside, and so bunched up together.”

Once out, the newborns had trouble breathing. One at a time, Beck held each by its hind legs to drain fluid. Then she wiped off its snout and gave it mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

“It was a pretty good puff to inflate the lungs,” she said.

Eventually all of the babies were breathing, so Terpstra and the others moved back into a nearby classroom to watch Gwen’s progress by computer as she bonded with her babies.

That’s when the fourth lamb popped out, a tiny creature they thought at first was a discharge after birth.

“We quickly picked him up,” Beck said.

He, too, had difficulty breathing, but is now thriving. A runt, that is nicknamed Sneaky Pete because he loves to follow his mom around and grab some milk when the other babies are distracted, Terpstra said.

When school ends, the lambs and their moms will go back to the farm, where they are a working herd. Organizers plan for some of the ewes to be bred again and return to the high school next fall.

Beck, a volunteer, applauds the lambing program under the direction of Brian Matchett, an award-winning teacher at the school.

“I think it is fantastic,” she said. “So many kids don’t have the opportunity to be around a cow or sheep in high school.”

The online Ewe-Tube is located at and works only with Google Chrome and Firefox web browsers. Scroll down the center column to the ewe-tube announcement and click on the tab. Terpstra said the live feed is sometimes turned off during the day to speed up the school’s Internet access.

Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5693.