Perspectives Online

Alumna leads her students in rescue of lambs

Bandys High School students attend to the rescued lambs at the school’s farm in Catawba County.
Photo courtesy Laura Parker

When the news broke last March that 77 sheep had been seized at a home in downtown Apex, the Bandys High School FFA chapter in Catawba County shifted into high gear.

Chris Fulbright, manager of the school farm, saw the story on the evening news and immediately contacted Laura Parker, a 2004 graduate of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Department of Agricultural and Extension Education. Parker serves as the school’s animal science teacher and one of the FFA chapter’s advisers.

Bandys High School students at school’s farm in Catawba County.
Photo by Suzanne Stanard
They found out that most of the adult animals had been rescued, but 13 lambs still needed homes. Parker volunteered for the school to take the lambs, and within hours, Fulbright and several students hit the road to Apex to pick up their farm’s newest additions.

“It was crazy,” said Jessica Marlowe, 18, who graduated from Bandys High School in May. She rode with Fulbright to Apex and witnessed the media frenzy first-hand. Marlowe is now the proud owner of Jersey, a brown female lamb who, Marlowe said, “thinks she’s a dog.”

When the lambs arrived at the farm, a number of Parker’s students helped weigh and process the animals, giving vaccinations and feeding them.

“Several were malnourished,” Parker said. “The five smallest lambs had to be bottle-fed multiple times, day and night. Our students got an early lesson in what it’s like to be a parent.”

The smallest lamb, at three weeks old, tipped the scales at a mere half-pound, and the largest was about 38 pounds, Parker said. Unfortunately, the tiniest one survived for only two weeks. It was difficult to get him to take the bottle, she said.

Laura Parker says the sheep have given her students “a first-hand experience with responsibility.”
Photo by Suzanne Stanard
But the other 12 lambs have blossomed into healthy, seemingly happy sheep. Five of them have been adopted by Parker’s students, and seven live on the school’s eight-acre farm.

Paige Miller, 15, a sophomore at Bandys High, adopted two lambs and named them Annie and Zoey. Miller was so eager to help with the rescue that she postponed a driving test to receive her learner’s permit. Annie, who weighed only about a pound at the time of the rescue, now logs a healthy 25 pounds.

“I liked carrying her around in a doggy bag,” Miller said, referencing a trip she once made with Annie to a pet store. She said the whole experience has been very rewarding, adding, “I like educating other people about how we rescued the animals.”

Gus, Annie’s brother, belongs to sophomore Heath Brittain, 15. “He thinks he’s the king of the mountain,” Brittain said. “He bosses the other sheep around.”

The total weight gained by the rescued lambs in their first six months of care by Parker’s students was 400 pounds.

“We’ve been very blessed and lucky by all of the support from the community,” Parker said. “Lots of folks have donated money, supplies and their time to help us.”

Parker, in her fourth year of teaching, joined Bandys High School after graduating from N.C. State. The school’s agricultural education department serves about 250 students, and Parker teaches about half of them.

“Since I’ve been here, Catawba County bought the farm for us,” Parker said. Her department organizes an “Agriculture Day” on the school’s farm each year, showcasing the sheep, goats, cattle, donkeys, horses, pigs and rabbits who live there. Of the lamb rescue, she said, “the whole school has been really supportive.”

Parker describes the farm as a learning lab for her students, where they get hands-on experience caring for a variety of animals. The students do everything from trimming hooves to feeding, watering and administering vaccinations. Last year, Parker said, a local family donated 40 acres’ worth of hay to the school, and the students were responsible for unloading and storing it.

The students, under Parker’s guidance, also can participate in an organized show team. In the fall, Parker and several of her students traveled to the N.C. State Fair to show some of the farm’s sheep.

But the rescued sheep probably won’t ever have a show experience, Parker said, because of the lack of information about their breeding lines and the physical limitations likely brought on by their initial captivity. “A lot of these sheep have very frail bone structure, especially compared to other sheep,” she said.

On their six-month birthday in September, Parker’s class held a party for the sheep. Indeed, there was a lot to celebrate.

“These sheep have been a blessing for us,” Parker said. “They’ve given our students a first-hand experience with responsibility.”

—Suzanne Stanard