There is no surer sign of spring on the North Fork than the beginning of lambing season.
From the end of March to the beginning of May, the Icelandic sheep flock at 8 Hands Farm is expected to add roughly 70 babies to the herd.
Now in the midst of the Cutchogue farm’s sixth lambing season, owners Tom Geppel and wife Carol Festa have become more discretionary. They opted to breed a smaller group this year — 36 instead of the traditional 40 — a process that helps ensure favorable traits, like positive temperament.
“When you first start, you breed everyone you have because you need the numbers to establish the flock,” said Geppel. “Now we’ve gotten to the point where we’re focusing more on successful lambing instead of numbers.”
The process begins in November and is in no way random. The farmers carefully group ewes with an individual ram to curate a healthy new generation to continue the pure lineage of 8 Hands’ first 13 Icelandic sheep.
“We’re evolving the flock,” said Geppel.
Lambing season is considered the most magical time of the year. It’s also the most challenging for the farmers, who monitor the pregnant flock nearly 24 hours a day.
“It’s incredible to help bring new life into the world,” said Festa. “Our lambing rate is typically two per sheep and it’s all happening in the span of a little less than a month and a half. You can imagine it is completely crazy.”
This requires Geppel and Festa to roll up their sleeves and to assist laboring ewes, which may often be twins or even triplets. Two sets of triplets have been delivered this year. Twins are the most common; single babies are the least.
The baby lambs are between four and eight pounds when they’re born. They spend their first few days in an insolated pen — called a jug — with their mother and siblings before being introduced to the flock. When they are fully grown, the ewes will reach 150 pounds; the rams closer to 200 pounds.
See more photos of the lambs before they grow up below.