Spring is here and this may be most obvious at Aveley Heritage Sheep Ranch, where the lambing has been in full swing for the past couple weeks.
As of last week roughly 250 baby lambs had been born, making it peak time for the ranch’s self-guided lamb tours, where people can cuddle newborns, bottle feed orphan lambs, and potentially see a lamb birth.
Kathleen Kandborg, who visits every year from her home in Genelle, B.C., has made the trip to the Vavenby ranch 10 seasons in a row to take part in the unique experience.
“It’s like a ranch experience—you come and stay and you can either help out or just watch. They feed you, look after you and show you all the different day-to-day things that happen on a sheep farm,” said Kandborg, who first visited the ranch when her husband brought her there as a birthday present.
“We just stayed for the weekend, but they basically had to drag me home kicking and screaming because I wanted to stay forever.”
The Aveley Ranch has a bed and breakfast onsite, so those who find lambing as irresistible as Kandborg can stay for an extended visit and take part in all that lamb farming entails.
The year following Kandborg’s first visit she received a call from Aveley Ranch’s head shepherdess, Valerie Moilliet-Gerber, with an offer to return as a volunteer, which was an opportunity Kandborg jumped on with enthusiasm.
“I stayed for a few days and then the next year I brought my daughter because I thought she needed to experience this, so my daughter has been coming every year since then as well.”
Because Kandborg has become such a regular, she now brings along her travel trailer and helps out on the sheep ranch for weeks at a time.
She said she has trouble settling on just one aspect of what she loves so much about sheep, but tries to sum it up by saying it’s their nature that draws her to them.
“Their wool is so fabulous, it has a great feel, a great smell, a great look; on the ranch, there are a thousand sheep here and they all have different faces, just like humans do, and you can see the different expressions they have, hear the different sounds they make and they just love you,” she said.
“They just want to be loved and cuddled, and the lambs just want to be with you all the time, so I think I just feel so loved by them and that’s why I love them so much.”
When a mother sheep gives birth to more offspring than she can feed, the additional lambs are referred to as orphans and put in a separate pen where they’re bottle fed by humans.
For more casual admirers of sheep, Moilliet-Gerber said day visitors tend to gravitate to the orphan lamb pen because the orphans are more used to humans and associate them with being fed, which makes them especially friendly to people who drop by.
“(Visitors) love to cuddle and feed the orphan lambs and many also enjoy watching the births; even the children like to watch the birthing and it’s good for parents, who often say it helps explain the cycle of birth,” Moilliet-Gerber said with a laugh.
“The birds and the bees.”
The Aveley Heritage Sheep Ranch has been in operation for more than 100 years and often attracts generations of visitors, with grandparents bringing their grandchildren after having visited the farm when they were younger.
And because the tours are self-guided, with cost for a visit done by donation, it makes for an accessible springtime activity for people to enjoy.
“Last weekend we had a third generation family come, the grandma and her daughter and her little boy, and she said three generations have come to the sheep farm and we have to keep up the tradition,” Moilliet-Gerber said.
“Her daughter lives in the Okanagan, so she just came up for the weekend—it’s pretty exciting when you see the third and fourth generations still coming.”
Those interested in checking out the Aveley Heritage Sheep Ranch are encouraged to do so before the end of April when the lambing activity dies down, though shearing takes place in the second weekend of May, which Moilliet-Gerber said some visitors also enjoy.
The best times to visit are between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. and more information can be found at aveleyranch.com