Birthing season delivered some surprises this spring at Three Dog Farm.
Sheep gave birth to two sets of quadruplets, a rare feat that has Carol Deacon putting in extra hours to keep the newborns happy and fed.
Mothers -- called ewes -- can't produce enough milk for four babies, so Deacon and her helpers pitch in by bottle-feeding the offspring as often as four times a day.
It's equal parts hobby and livelihood for Deacon, who quit her job as a bank vice president in the 1990s and moved to a farm in southern York County.
Deacon raises St. Croix hair sheep -- an unusual breed with hair that sheds instead of wool that should be shorn.
The quadruplets are among 50 newborns that spend their days frolicking in a grassy field, running circles around the grown-up sheep and waiting for Deacon to arrive with their next meals. View video of the lambs here.
On this sunny Friday morning, Deacon used a Dr. Pepper bottle with a squirt cap to give milk to a baby named Wilma.
At 2 weeks old, the babies have grown enough teeth to munch on solid food. They're already starting to nibble at grass and hay.
"They watch the moms to learn what to do," Deacon says.
Drivers passing by often stop to admire the pastoral scene at Deacon's farm on Bridgewater Road, just off S.C. 322 southwest of Rock Hill.
One father sired all 50 newborns. Having performed his duties, the dad named Moses now stays in a nearby pen with other male sheep, called rams.
Predators are a constant concern. From her home across the road from the sheep pens, Deacon can hear coyotes howl at night.
The sheep are protected by an electric fence ready to zap anything that touches it.
And Deacon's dogs -- two foxhounds, two black labs and a big brown dog named Ernie -- are fiercely protective of the flock. The dogs are vigilant in keeping watch for prowlers.
When the sheep are a year old, the females and some males are sold to breeders. Others are sold "for the table," meaning they go to a butcher shop in the nearby town of Sharon. By this point, as Deacon points out, the sheep have left the cute, cuddly stage -- they each weigh 150 pounds and are covered in shaggy manes.
Deacon is working toward humane certification, awarded after an inspector comes to the farm and examines practices from an animal's birth to death.
From bank to farm
This isn't a line of work Deacon imagined as a vice president at First Union in uptown Charlotte. Disenchanted with the business world, Deacon and her husband, Kim, bought the farm in 1995.
"I've done the corporate thing," she said. "It's nice to be out here where there's a real connection to something that's very real."
This part of York County was once home to vast cotton fields. Visitors can still see foundations of homes that belonged to sharecroppers.
Deacon is living off the land in a different way, tending to her St. Croix sheep and living a back-to-basics lifestyle she finds plenty satisfying.