Four little lambs born in rural Frederick County are now living the good life in the heart of New York City.
The lambs, Grey Seal, Rosemary, Thimble, and bottle-fed Homer joined a menagerie of kid-friendly animals in May at the Tisch Children’s Zoo, part of the world-famous Central Park Zoo.
Kim Gore, who along with her daughter Lacee Dienst are owners of Seeing Spots Farm near Stephens City, received an email earlier this year from the Central Park Zoo about adding some of their wooly spotted Harlequin sheep to its petting zoo.
“The sweetest lady answered the phone and she was so excited I called her back,” Dienst said when she contacted the zoo.
“The breed itself personality-wise is incredibly calm, docile,” Dienst said, “And she was like, ‘I was looking at your website and it was exactly what we wanted to see.”
After much paperwork and medical tests, the 12-week-old lambs were picked up by a Central Park Zoo van and were on their way to New York, New York.
Down on the farm
Standing in a small, bright red barn at Seeing Spots Farm last week, Gore and Dienst passionately described their labor of love while chickens clucked, roosters crowed and the sheep and other farm animals vied for attention. It was like being around a bunch of noisy toddlers or curious puppies, and it was delightful.
An emu named Bert gently nudged the visiting news team while “mama llama,” who is as tall as an adult, stood nose to nose and eye to eye with this reporter and later explored the photographer’s beard. One of the sheep pulled some pages out of the photographer’s notebook without him noticing and proceeded to chew on them. Bert used his big beak in an attempt to borrow this reporter’s iPhone.
Bert, Gore noted, likes attention. “He will stand there and let 20 kids touch him,” she said, explaining that each year several school and 4-H groups visit the farm.
“It’s funny,” Dienst said while looking over the sheep surrounding her. “Everybody says I don’t see how you tell them apart. To us, they are as different as kids and they all have different personalities.”
The sheep, Gore said, have theme names. “Like, OK, this is Maleny. Maleny is a beautiful place in Australia, so all of her babies are named for little towns in Australia, and that’s how they are registered.
“That is Zsa Zsa, so all her babies are starlets. Then we have Tiny Dancer — all hers are Elton John songs. So everybody’s got a theme.”
The business — a happy place
Seeing Spots Farm is located on the Gore family farm in Stephens City, next to their meat processing plant. The four-generation family business, which started in 1961, also includes a federally inspected meat processing plant and custom retail butcher shop — the Edinburg Foltz Plant — in Shenandoah County, and Gore’s Fresh Meats delicatessen on Centre Drive in Stephens City.
Gore keeps books for the family businesses while her daughter works two days a week as a nurse, but most of their time is spent at the barn taking care of their small flock of sheep and other critters. Some of the lambs, Gore said, have even been brought home in diapers and bottle-raised. Dienst does the sheering each May and trims their hooves twice a year.
The business, Dienst said, can be an emotional rollercoaster.
“We feel so much for these ladies that we watch them closely,” she said, noting that they have cameras on the sheep so they can watch over them from their nearby homes.
Gore said they have spent many cold winter nights in the barn watching over the sheep, especially when lambs are being born.
“This is my happy place,” Gore said of the little red barn, while Dienst described it as her retreat.
Seeing Spots Farm typically has about 20 lambs for sale each year. There are not many Harlequin breeders in the U.S., so they do have a waiting list. The lambs are sold to petting zoos, hand spinners for wool production, as pets and also for consumption. The lambs are around $700 to $800 and Gore said they do screen people who want to buy them.
“We’ve learned the hard way that there are some things you have to ask because there are some things we can’t watch our babies go through,” Gore said. “It’s our job to be sure that they are going to be loved.”
A new breed
Harlequin is a new American breed of sheep developed over several decades by the late Kathy Sterling of Clarke County. It became a registered breed about 15 years ago.
“It’s the first American breed in about a hundred years that got recognized,” Gore said, adding that while all Harlequins are descendants of Sterling’s flock, hers are “very, very close” descendants.
Sterling, Gore said, was trying to find a happy medium — a sheep that was small enough that a woman could handle, but not too small that it could not be used as a commercial sheep for consumption.
“She wanted a breed that wasn’t going to be so small that you couldn’t butcher it because tiny, miniature animals — it’s not worth the butcher’s time and you don’t want a chop that is two bites.”
Seeing Spots Farm has been raising Harlequins for nearly 20 years, and as the farm’s name notes, the lambs do have spots.
“It’s kind of odd,” Gore said. “You’ll get a black every now and you’ll get a white, but for the most part they are spotted.”
Their website, harlequinlambs.com, describes the breed as “a sweet timid small breed with lots to offer. The pinto coloring and the docile temperament make these sheep perfect pets and petting zoo ambassadors for the livestock world.”
The farm’s breeding ewes are Tiny Dancer, Ursula, Vista, Rachel, Zsa Zsa, Nikita, Harmony, Zipper, Maleny, Pickles and HarleQuin, and the two breeding rams are Pepper and John Henry.
The sweetest thing about the ewes, Gore said, is that they are born to be mommas.
“When they have a lamb, the sounds they make, the coos they make, oh, that’s like our favorite thing in the whole world,” she said. Dienst described it as almost like a purring sound. “That’s how the babies know which mom is theirs.”
Back to the zoo
Gore was not kidding when she said they follow up on their lambs’ well-being when they leave the farm. In July, she and her husband Jeff visited New York City to check up on the lambs and take in the sights.
“It’s a beautiful zoo. The keepers are wonderful,” Gore said.
“It was so funny to see sheep and skyscrapers,” she recalled, adding that when she first saw the lambs in their new home, Homer — the bottle-fed lamb — recognized her.
“When I got there, Homer ran right up to me,” she said. “He was like, ‘there is my mommy.’”
Linda Ash is a retired newspaper editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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