PELHAM — As the trees begin to flower and the smells of spring permeate the air, Merrimack Valley families are making their plans for the summer, which for many means summer camp.
Twelve lucky local kids will have a unique camp experience this year, likely a world away from anything their parents remember from their childhood, as they prepare for a week of sheep fun at the Owens Family Farm’s Sheep Camp.
This year marks the third that Caroline Owens has held the weeklong camp at her family’s 13-acre working farm on Dutton Road, where campers spend six hours a day learning about agricultural science, participating in hands-on fun with lambs, competing in country games, creating crafts from the farm’s own wool and of course, swimming.
“It is great to see the kids again and to see so many new faces,” said Owens, adding that half of those who have signed up are return campers. “It seems that all of the kids that find this place are just a perfect fit.”
On April 30, Owens hosted a tour of the farm for new and returning campers and their families, many of whom were surprised by the variety of animals living on the farm.
Taking a stroll through the orchard, which boasts plum, peach, apple and pear trees as well as a beehive that produces several gallons of honey each year, the visitors came across a happy group of chickens, contentedly strutting and clucking around the yard.
“They eat a lot of the insects that would harm the fruit trees,” Owens explained. “And they keep my son Kevin busy on an Easter egg hunt every day.”
Elsie, famous for chewing on her tongue, and her friend Michelle are found in the pasture. Both pregnant cows are just about ready to add two new friends to the farm family.
“The variety is amazing; it is so much more than sheep,” said Cyrena Mandel of Haverhill about the farm, which also houses a horse, chicks, a rabbit, piglets and turkeys.
Mandel began home-schooling her daughter Clarissa, 11, in September and met Owens, who also home-schools her three children at an ice-skating outing over the winter.
“Caroline is a great person and when she told us about the camp, we knew it was right up our alley,” Mandel said. “Clarissa loves science and animals and all of the other camps we looked at were too sports-oriented.”
As the tour moved to the far end of the property, the stars of the show came into view. Frolicking among their moms were a bevy of tiny lambs, eager to meet their new friends.
Stephanie Raffa, 11, of Pembroke, a first-year camper was given the most coveted job of them all. She had the opportunity to bottle-feed an orphaned lamb, easily spotted by the orange stripe painted on his back. All Stephanie had to do was take a few steps in his direction, shake the bottle and he was all hers, happily gulping away at the sheep “formula.”
Owens explained that the lamb’s mother died after his birth.
“The pushing from the birth actually pushed the uterus out, causing irreversible damage to the muscles,” she said. “It is the first time that this has happened to us in 15 years; it is the kind of thing you read about in sheep books, and hope it never happens.”
The curious Raffa asked many questions during the tour, obviously very excited about the fun that awaits her this July.
“I just want to be around the lambs,” she said. “I really love animals and think this is going to be a lot of fun. I want to learn all about the farm.”
Vickie Turcotte of Dracut is jealous. Her daughter Renee, 7, will be attending sheep camp this summer and after having a tour of he farm, she wants to go, too.
“When are you going to have a camp for adults?” she pleaded.
“You are not the first to ask,” Owens laughed.
Turcotte heard about the camp from her cousin Aimee Rondeau, 10, who was a camper last year and will be back again this year.
“It’s unbelievable; you’d never know it’s here, so close to home,” Turcotte said. “I think it’s great.”
“Everything about the camp was cool,” said Rondeau of Dracut. “But I really liked washing the sheep.”
First-year campers, who attend their session a week before the veteran campers, are granted a very special privilege.
Each camper is assigned a lamb to work with for the week, and they get to name them.
“It’s a special week; you get to initiate the training of the lambs, name them and break them in,” she said.
Although this year’s camp is full, Owens is taking names and addresses of interested families to add to her mailing list for next year.
For more information, visit www.owensfarm.com or call 603-635-8553.
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