Little lambs take a lot of work on Willow Green Farm

MARION – When her flock of 100 ewes give birth to new lambs over the course of an intense, three-week period, Rae Marie Salinas counts even a trip to the grocery store as an exciting break from the barn.

Between checking for newborn lambs, making sure they drink their mother’s milk within an hour of birth and moving older lambs into larger pens, Salinas typically gets only two hours of sleep at a time.

"It’s exhausting," Salinas said. "We have approximately 80 lambs drop on the ground in 4 or 5 days. But, it’s kind of like childbirth. When it’s over and happy, healthy lambs are jumping around playing, it’s worth the effort and I'll do it again next year."

When the barn doors open after all the lambs have been born, the neighbors know a show is about to begin as the new lambs run back and forth, playing in the field for hours.

“(Neighbors) are always commenting, “We’re waiting for the barn doors to open up,”” said Rae Marie’s husband, Alan.

After the birth of the lambs, life on Willow Green farm might slow down for a few days before another birthing boom begins. Around 45 calves are born over the course of five weeks beginning near the third week in February, almost doubling the herd of 50 angus, simmental beef cattle.

The Salinas’ 320-acre farm, located just north of Evart, has been in the same family for 85 years and currently is owned by the third generation.

Raymond and Rosetta Cruikshank settled the farm in 1927 and then passed it down to Rae Marie’s father, Rex Cruikshank, who still helps on the farm daily. The operation began with sheep and milking shorthorns, then switched to a

sole dairy operation. In 1985, after Raymond passed away, Rex sold the dairy cows and began raising beef cattle. Alan and Rae Marie bought the farm in 1991 and named the farm Willow Green farm because of the abundance of willow trees and the color green on the property. They had the intention of solely carrying on the beef cattle operation.

But when the first two lambs came to the farm, that all changed.

"My parents bought our son two bottle lambs for Easter 21 years ago. We had the ewe bred, and, we are with a flock of 100 ewes," Rae Marie said.

After the calves are born in the winter, they are sold the following fall, bringing the herd number back to around 50. Alan said one of his favorite parts of the business is watching how the calves change over the course of the time he has them.

“It’s always nice when the new calf or lamb comes, to see how fast they grow,” Alan said.

Many of the lambs also are sold after spending some time on Willow Green farm.

4-H members around the state buy the lambs to show in agricultural fairs in Michigan as well as in other states. Rae Marie and Alan’s daughter, Rachel, also competes with the lambs at national shows in Louisville, KY, and Kansas City, MO.

“Thats the satisfaction - watching them when they are little and then seeing how they mature and grow up,” Rae Marie said.

When the lambs are sold to other individuals, the mother - daughter pair often help in training children how to display the lambs to prepare for a successful showing in the fair.

During fair time, they travel from fair to fair all around the state, helping children with lambs from the farm do well in the competition.

"It is quality time together that can never be replaced," Rae Marie said. “The feeling of pride when your own stock does well, is priceless.”

Rae Marie and Rachel, who both thrive on competition, enjoy going to to lamb shows in Oklahoma, South Dakota, and other fair locations to meet other breeders and see their animals.

The pair spent the last two weekends in April at sheep shows, which qualify as vacations in their book.

The Salinas’ also own Smith Lumber in Evart, where Alan spends six days each week and Rae Marie works 20 hours a week.

Their son, Jonathon, graduated from Michigan Technical Institute and now works in Big Rapids. Rachel is finishing her third year at Oklahoma State University, working towards a degree in animal science, with minors in Spanish, marketing and business.

Along with working on their farm and running Smith Lumber, the Salinas’ are involved in their community. Alan is a volunteer fireman in Marion, a member of the Evart Public School District school board and involved with Osceola County Community Foundation. Rae Marie is a 4-H club leader.

The Salinas’ said they plan on continuing their operation for years to come.

“It’s a source of entertainment,” Rae Marie said. “Animals are stress relievers.”