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Alberta ewe gives birth to six lambs

The ewe cares for four of her six lambs. Will, shown below, was the fourth to be born and was the smallest and weakest. | Hope Collar photo

Farmer says raising sheep has helped her deal with anxiety and describes the sextuplets as being good for her well-being

A set of six lambs born from the same mother may be a million-to-one event, but Cathy Skory already knew she was lucky to raise sheep.

“It looks beautiful to me to see them, and I love animals,” she says from her farm southwest of High River, Alta. “I’ve struggled with anxiety for the last 10 years or so, and it just brings a calmness… so it’s been very good for my well-being, too.”

The sextuplets were born on her farm May 7. The five males and one female all survived.

Skory says the event may be as rare as 50 million to one, based on internet research. Most ewes give birth to one to three lambs at a time.

“It was touch and go with the fourth one that was born. We thought he was dead. He was really, really small.”

The lamb weighed about four pounds, six ounces, about half the weight of his siblings.

Skory had to give the lamb mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, “and yeah, he came back. He survived and he’s thriving. We had to bring him into the house for about four days because the weather was so cold.”

He was named Will “because he has such a strong will to live.”

Along with three of the other sextuplets, he had to be bottle fed because his mother only had enough milk for two. Skory describes the leftover four as the orphan lambs.

Each of the four were given names to help avoid confusion because they were being cared for, something Skory doesn’t normally do as a farmer because it makes it too hard emotionally to sell them.

Besides Will, they are Levi, Simeon and Reuben, named after three of the sons of the Biblical patriarch Jacob.

“I am a Christian.… the Bible refers to Jesus as the good shepherd and us as sheep or lambs quite often,” Skory says.

Cathy Skory feeds milk to Will, one of the sextuplets born to a ewe on her farm near High River, Alta. | Hope Collar photo

As a farmer who started raising sheep about two years ago with the help of her friend, Hope Collar, Skory has gained a first-hand understanding of such metaphors. She points to how sheep like to follow each other.

“If one starts heading somewhere, they all go, and I think sometimes people tend to do that — to follow the crowd — but just their innocence and gentleness, and the fact of how they need love, too, right?”

Anxiety is something Skory says she has likely faced for much of her life, although it became especially acute in the last 10 years.

“I think as we get older, like, I’m 58, and as we get older, our bodies aren’t able to, maybe we’re not as strong as we used to be. I used to just be so busy with kids and work and everything else… I don’t even know how to explain it.”

It can feel like she’s constantly on high alert. Her heart feels like it’s racing, even though it’s not, with everything rapidly going around her in circles.

“I get panic attacks when I’m in crowds — sometimes, not all the time. Nobody would know, really, like I hide it pretty well, except I’ve had a few bad ones in public.”

As someone who does part-time counselling of other people through the non-profit Real Life group of women, which is a Christian ministry, Skory suspects her condition is fairly common.

“I think a lot of people have been very emotionally wounded in their life, or struggle with anxiety or depression. It can be a real healing thing to be connected with animals.”

Being a farmer can be tough at times. Three particularly bad years made it impossible to rely solely on the farm for their livelihood.

Skory and her husband, Steven, joined with another couple in a trucking business, 6S Trinity Transport Ltd. They also had to sell one of their quarter sections, and now raise hay instead of crops such as canola, barley and peas.

At about half the weight of his five siblings, Will was placed under a heat lamp to keep him warm. | Cathy Skory photo

However, the other side of the coin is the wonder and joy farmers experience through events such as the birth and survival of the six lambs. It’s something Skory says is particularly important during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“You know, honestly, the reason I wanted the story out there was because there’s so much bad news in the last year and a half, like so much sickness and death you hear about all the time, and this is just a feel-good story. I think people like to hear about new life and about animals.”

Although raising sheep can be a lot of work, especially during lambing season, Skory wishes she had started doing it a long time ago.

When she holds Will to feed him, she no longer feels weighed down by anxiety.

“It almost feels like it calms my heart beating. It’s just like, even when you give a person a hug —when you hug somebody, it’s so good for us, right? But we can also get that feeling from caring for a helpless animal.”

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