Last week, Tuesday night’s excitement was finding a ewe  mid-birth in the barn when I got home from work. Good thing I already had my lamb bag o’ tricks packed and ready to go. I didn’t know when she was due without looking on my printout in the house. But as I gloved up, and thought through my calculations, the following Monday was the earliest any lambs should arrive. So 6 days earlier than earliest seemed… too early. :-{

The lamb was mal-presented, leg-back and  head-back. This is one of the small bottle lamb ewes, so her frame is Barbados Blackbelly-sized, and very hard to work in. After a few minutes working on rearranging the lamb, I noticed brown stuff coming off on my glove, and realized it wasn’t meconium, it was fur. A good clue that the lamb was dead and starting to decompose. Thankfully, it was still solid enough to manipulate in the womb- I haven’t yet had to deliver a hideous disintegrating one, though I’m sure my turn will come!

People aren’t kidding when they say dead fetuses are hard to deliver. I don’t know what kind of help live lambs contribute when you are correcting a mal-presentation, but they do something that’s useful. They must subtly wiggle, twirl, and otherwise use their muscles to try to get lined up right.

This one’s body just wanted to keep returning to is former position, like a piano string; so I’d get the head brought around and shift to pulling the front legs, only to find the head had reverted backwards again. I tried the cable snare tool and also the nylon noose, both to no avail, I just couldn’t get them around the back of the skull. I worked and worked; and finally managed to just tow the thing by the lower jaw far enough into the birth canal that it stayed rightly oriented. This would not have been advisable with a live lamb, as I completely dislocated the jaw, but it got the job done with a dead lamb.

In normal births, the birthing fluid serves as a superb lubrication, such that once the lamb is aligned, it just sluices out like it’s in a theme park waterslide. Not so with this one, I went through a huge bottle of OB lube and it still felt like it wasn’t enough. Usually after the head and shoulders clear, the lamb comes shooting out because everything following is narrower than the front end. But this one was a difficult pull all the way ‘til the end. It’s abdomen was bloated with fluid, so that seemed to hang up as well.

The lamb itself was appropriately sized for this ewe, so if it had been alive, I think it would have delivered easily enough. It looked normal and healthy, other than the bloated abdomen, so who knows what made it perish just a week or so before it should have been born? These things happen…

All told, it took me about two hours to extract it. The next day, I was so sore- my arms, legs and everything; and the muscles around my thumbs were bruised and puffy. I didn’t realize how hard I was working at the time- I think part of it is just the acrobatics on the floor, working from odd angles. But I  can hardly complain, I’m sure the ewe was a thousand times more sore than I!

The poor girl was shot by the end of it, she lay there flat-out and motionless. I left her to rest while I had some dinner (Kirk had bought lobster and was waiting up to cook it for me…). When I checked on her next, she seemed shock-ey, so I put her on a heating pad, bundled her up in a bedspread, and syringed warm molasses water and Nutridrench into her. I checked on her every few hours through the night, and she eventually perked up and could lift her head and talk. I gave her something for pain. By morning she was willing to eat and drink. But she could barely rise, and was very stumble-ey and imbalanced on her feet. As careful as one tries to be, these kinds of deliveries are sure hard on the ewe, all sorts of tissue damage occurs.

But she is healing, the next evening when I let the ewes out to graze, she was distressed to be left behind, so I let her go. Though walking tired her greatly, I figured it was probably good for her to move; and she felt ok enough to graze even though she was still tottering and stumbling some. But she is lucky to be alive!

This week she is improving quite a bit. I followed up with antibiotics, more pain meds, de-wormer and vitamin B injections; this is not a time to be all natural-ey. Though when “going in” after a lamb, I try to be as clean as I can, using OB gloves, antiseptic gel and clean towels on the ground; at some point in those two hours, the focus shifts from being super sanitary to just getting the freaking lamb out before the ewe dies of shock. Disappointed smileSo infection is almost guaranteed, and a  heavy dose of antibiotics will help see her through all this trauma. She developed diarrhea and was thin, so thus the de-worming as well. I am so glad to have the barn, the pens, and my lambing jugs now! A jug is perfect for monitoring a sick sheep.

One interesting part is that her demeanor towards me has changed. This is one of the twins whose mother died of electrocution when they were a week old. This ewe, in particular, was always very resentful at having to take the bottle; and though she is tame in a sense, she has never taken to me. But during the delivery, the few times I had to step away to get some different equipment, she called out in distress. She did not want me to leave her alone. And now she is quite benevolent towards me, talking all the time, and calm when I handle her. I’ve read that being involved in a lamb delivery can cause a ewe to bond to you via the natural lamb bonding process; but in this case, she didn’t really get to experience that part. So maybe she just realized I helped her, or was appreciative of not being alone in her time of pain and distress. Whatever the cause, she has sure changed her tune!

So, here’s hoping this was an anomaly, and it’ll all be downhill form here. Official lambing can start any time now, and should get into full swing by the weekend.

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