1032I had a difficult sheep birth a couple of days ago. My old lady sheep, #KRK33 was laying around in the morning, not obviously in labor, but definitely miserable, and overdue. She only had a tiny vaginal discharge, no ketotic breath. I gave her an hour or so, but saw no progression, so went in to feel what was going on.

There was a true breach lamb way down in there. Her cervix didn’t feel very dilated, I think the lack of a torpedo shaped head coming through doesn’t help it along. So it took a while for my hand and wrist to get in there enough to be able to maneuver and start to line up the legs to get the thing out. [Slightly gross nature photos to follow.]

Somewhere in the process it occurred to me that this is a lot like working on a car in the driveway. When you are way under there on your back or your side, trying to get torque on a stiff bolt from an odd angle, and you feel like you might throw your shoulder out of joint from the determined exertion. It’s too bad nobody was around to take a picture, as I imagine it was quite a scene. I had to lay down next to her, and with one arm fully inside the ewe, and the other hand holding her leg up to tilt her pelvis, it seemed like some ridiculous variant of Twister. At one point, I had to switch from my right to my left hand, just to get the angle and strength I needed to rearrange things. My hands were cramping, and poor #33 was patiently groaning and waiting for me to help her out. I was covered in head to toe blood, birthing fluids and mud. Ah, this is farming. Open-mouthed smile

So. I got one leg back, tethered it so I wouldn’t lose it, then got the second leg, and out she came. A shaggy white ewelamb. You might guess from the picture that I did not save her, but I think I learned something from this one. WhiteLamb

When she delivered, she was weak. I saw some breaths, but they were feeble, and separated by quite a bit of time, so possibly agonal breaths. She had fluid in her lungs, so I juggled doing CPR on her with getting the liquid out of her, and a couple of times switching to manage the other two lambs coming down the pike. But she was obviously fading fast. Somewhere in there, I noted that her umbilical cord was dripping blood, in a slow but steady drip, drip, drip. I thought if I could get her breathing, I’d tie that off in a minute. But that’s where I think I was wrong, and later I remembered why.

The umbilical cord breakage during birth in ruminants is special, and I believe its role is slightly different and more important than in human births. From what I’ve read, in human babies, multiple factors are thought to stimulate the baby to breathe: depleting oxygen and increased carbon dioxide in the bloodstream, temperature changes, and the transition from fluid to air on the face and skin. In lambs, the action of the umbilical cord flow becoming blocked is an important signal the brain needs to trigger breaths, I think much more important than other stimuli. [Here is a link to an abstract describing an experiment where scientists could get a lamb fetus to start and stop breathing by clamping and unclamping the umbilical cord in utero.]

In normal circumstances, the lamb comes out head first, the cord breaks as the lamb’s body exits the ewe, blood clots in the cord within seconds, and the lamb is triggered to start taking breaths. But two things can go wrong. If the lamb is wrongly positioned and the cord breaks and clots before the head is out, the lamb will start taking breaths, aspirate placental fluids, and drown. Or, if for some reason, the cord fails to clot, the lamb’s brain may not command breaths at all. I think one or both may have happened in this case. So, in hindsight, maybe I should have clamped that cord the moment I noticed it had failed to clot, to ensure a stronger breathing reflex, before I tried CPR. I’ll remember if I ever see this rare occurrence again!

33WithLambsThe next two lambs were also malpositioned, the second one came out backwards. But I pulled it quick, and it was fine. The third lamb was forward facing, but had one arm over the top of her head. But she delivered that way before I had time to straighten it out, so I guess by then, the birth canal was so enlarged and lubricated, I think a whale could have come through there!

33WithLambs2Poor #33, she was an exhausted and bloody mess after all this (as was I). She washed her lambs lying down, and then I made her stand up once they were strong enough to nurse. And everything else was fine after that, she is doing a good job, though I imagine she has some soreness! Smile with tongue out

Later I did a little reconnaissance inside that lamb to see what I could see. Her umbilical cord was fatter than normal, and its connection through the body looked big and bloody, both on the exterior and interior. And there seemed to be quite a bit of blood inside the abdominal cavity, though sometimes it’s hard for me to tell if that’s just a byproduct of butchering them out or not. So it’s possible that all the wrangling to get the lamb into position had already mutilated the whole umbilical cord connection point, and caused internal hemorrhaging, or something irreparable, anyway. The first picture is the umbilical cord inside the body, and the second is the section outside of the abdomen. It looks a little more bludgeoned than I think cords normally look.UmbilicalCord1


And then, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. I let the collies eat the parted-out lamb. No sense in wasting perfectly good meat. With these little, soft bones, they’ll eat them entirely, feet, fur and all. Yum!MaggieSnacking