Only one ram lamb was born on Saturday morning, but in the coming days the Vorac Suffolk herd near Jefferson is expected to increase in numbers.
Peter Vorac and his adult daughter Kelly Vorac run the farm, which raises Suffolk sheep as breeders and animals for slaughter. The farm currently has between 55 and 60 ewes and many are expected to lamb between February 1 and mid-March.
âWe have some good stuff here,â said Peter. “We paid the money for the genetics.”
Since Peter bought the farm in 1985, the father-daughter duo have built a reputation in the entertainment industry with their sheep. They are presented annually at the Great Frederick Fair and the Pennsylvania Ram and Buck Goat Test and have won awards in both cases. They also sell lambs as part of 4-H projects or raise their rams on a small number of farms.
Much of their success in the show ring, however, comes down to running the farm. While some farms raise their one-year-old ewes, the Vorac wait until the ewes are 1Â½ years old before raising them so that they lamb at the age of 2 years.
âThe sheep is not yet fully developed, so we are waiting for it to grow,â said Peter. “And, they are better mothers.”
The environment in which the sheep are raised is also important. All enclosures are made of steel rather than wood to prevent the spread of disease. The barn on the property also has hot running water, which the ewes need after lambing to start producing milk, he said.
All of these little management decisions lead to a big show and a food product.
Peter said he expected to have around 160 sheep on the farm after lambing is complete.
He and Kelly then selected between a third and a quarter of their ewes to make them breeders. Those who don’t cut would be treated locally at Hemp’s Meats just 4Â½ miles from the farm.
âHemp’s does a really good job as it comes, processing the meat,â said Peter.
Hemp’s makes lamb sausages with the Voracs family recipe, and will also prepare custom orders.
A customer recently requested a mutton stomach to make haggis – a traditional Scottish dish that includes mutton organ meat – and Peter said he would speak with the USDA inspector on Monday to determine if it was legal to respond to his request. Special requests like this, however, are the kind of service customers often can’t get at large slaughterhouses, Peter said.
One hurdle the farm will face this year is the early arrival of Greek Easter on April 8, Peter said. The lambs won’t be the desired 80 to 90 pounds that customers are looking for in their holiday meal, but it would have been difficult for the Voracs to have lambed earlier this year to meet the deadline, Kelly said.
When she was in college, the family lambed time for her extended Christmas vacation, but now that she works full time and lives in Howard County, her availability is less.
In winter, the weather also plays a big role in the survival of newborn lambs. When the temperature is above freezing, an ewe can clean and dry a lamb on its own, but when it is 5 degrees, the ewe may not be able to dry the baby quickly enough, Kelly said. This makes spring lambing safer for animals. At the same time, however, the farm is battling another clock to wean the lambs before May, when many 4-H members are looking to take on a wildlife project.
Although they juggle multiple responsibilities, Kelly and Peter have agreed that sheep are a good fit for families in Frederick County.
Although they are a herd animal, they don’t require a lot of space and can live happily on just a few acres of land. Sheep are also a safe breeding option, which makes them a good project for children, Kelly said.
âI like it,â Kelly said. âThey are nice animals.
Follow Samantha Hogan on Twitter: @SAHogan.