Nursing her twins, with a cheat coming in the backHere’s the sad part of raising livestock, the losses. I lost a ewe last week, a good yearling that I had purchased. She came in a group of four half-sisters (same sire). The other three have thrived here, maintaining good weight, and generally doing well. Two have had good lambs, the third is due any day. This one was concerningly thin all through winter. I gave her an extra round of de-worming and a course of antibiotics, hoping to address whatever was dragging her down. She was in the barn for boost-feeding prior to breeding, and then again heading into late pregnancy.

She prolapsed ten days before her due date. Luckily, she was already in the barn, so it was straightforward for me to grab her, clean it off, push it back in, and fit her with a prolapse retainer and harness. I gave her another round of long-acting, broad-spectrum antibiotics and Banamine for this event; as well as oral CMPK (calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium) to address any mineral deficiency which can lead to muscle weakness, and thus, prolapse. She seemed ok, ate well in the subsequent days.

She went into labor five days early. I caught it, as mentioned in a previous post. She dropped her lambs on either end of the barn, and seemed to have no maternal behavior triggered, she just stood there with the rest of the sheep, as if nothing had happened. I jugged her, and still, she had no reaction to the lambs, good or bad. I stanchioned her so they could nurse. She had no objections, and acted like she felt really poorly. I assumed she was still struggling with subclinical hypocalcemia and maybe pain and inflammation, so more Banamine, another round of antibiotics, and oral CMPK. She warmed up to her lambs after a couple of days, accepted them, and offered some semblance of maternal care, though still sub-par. I kept them in the barn for observation.

Checking out lamb ID's- getting mothering down...Her lambs were aggressive mercenaries; they didn’t let her off the hook. They’d track her down, burrow to find her udder when she was lying down, and also bummed off of other ewes in the barn. So, things seemed on the right track.

Ten days later, I observed her having contractions again, and starting to head into vaginal prolapse. I put the harness back on her, more Banamine, more CMPK. What is going on? I thought, as normally prolapse is caused, in part, by the growing fetuses putting pressure on the vaginal muscles. Maybe she’s trying to push out infected material. I knew she had passed a placenta, but maybe there was a second one in there, or a left-behind decomposed fetus or something. But she’d already been on a lot of antibiotics, and had a fresh round, so there was nothing more I could do there, if infection was the culprit.

Still pregnant-looking 10 days after lambingShe seemed ok, was eating, maybe just feeling a little off. At one point, I looked at her from behind, and thought, geez, she still looks pregnant. Most of my ewes look really deflated after lambing, especially any that are thin, like she was. Could this be one of those weird, rare, double pregnancies, where she conceived a second set 17 days after the first? If that were the case, it would make sense that she was experiencing a hypocalcemia nightmare, trying to produce milk for one set of lambs while growing the bones of another. I figured if this were true, she’d be due in a few more days; and the goal would be to just get her through it nutritionally.

I decided to put her in a jug, just to keep out distractions and stress, and make sure she had access to a lot of good feed without competition. I noticed as I shuttled her into the jug, she stumbled, and barely caught herself from falling. So it definitely seemed like hypocalc was in the mix. I persisted with the CMPK, and offered up more grain, and plenty of alfalfa. She ate, stood calmly, and let her lambs nurse.

The next morning, she was recumbent and would not get up. She did not have interest in food, so I immediately started her on forced oral nutrients. Her lambs continued to manage to nurse, pushing in to find a teat whenever she would shift her position. I started introducing them to the bottle, just in case; and also because I figured her milk production was going to plummet, given her condition. They were happy to take it,  they seemed like those high-growth kinda lambs that were just happy to eat, eat, eat; whatever the source.

On the second day of her recumbence, I stepped up to injected calcium. She sustained, lying down, but reasonably alert, swallowing forced nutrients, and fighting me about them (so still a little bit of vigor left in her). She had pale diarrhea, so I knew what I was giving her was going through. On the first day she was down, I had tried to reach the vet I use the most; but honestly, I don’t use any vet much, so I’m not high on their list of priorities for callbacks. And, I figured there really wasn’t much more that could be done- antibiotics, supportive nutrients, and Banamine are pretty much it for cases like this. The next step up is full care in a hospital with IVs, and surgery-readiness; but that is not warranted for a $300 sheep. So, you just give them what you can and hope they have the strength to pull through.

I checked her in the evening on the second day of her being down, she seemed the same. I went out one more time before bed, and holy cow, total disaster. In those few short hours, her vagina and tail had ballooned up into a huge, huge swelling. My sleep-deprived, foggy brain thought Where have I seen that before? Ah, yes, my dog Gene, and her pyometra (which required emergency spay surgery and aggressive antibiotics and anti-inflammatories). So, definitely an infection going on in there, despite all those antibiotics! Then I noticed her hind leg, it too was all swollen, so her whole abdomen had gone into edema. Gaaah. My heart just sank.

I called the line of a 24-hour emergency livestock vet an hour north of me. He said, with those symptoms,  the game’s pretty much over. All he’d do was give more antibiotics and Banamine, intravenously (I typically do sub-Q, unless I have reason not to). He said there is only about a 10% chance of saving them at that point, and he recommended euthanasia. I gulped, and thought, should I just go shoot her right now? I probably should have, but I wimped, and hung onto that mention of 10%. Instead, I went and gave her more drugs in her jugular vein. I fed her lambs, went to bed, and slept restlessly.

She was dead in the morning. I’m pretty pragmatic at dealing with deaths, but still, there is an ache in your gut about these; such a shame, a good yearling ewe who produced a splendid set of twins. I necropsied her later that day (warning: graphic necropsy photos @ end of post).  There was so much fluid, it was really hard to work around in there. I do necropsies on big sheep in the tractor bucket, as I can set it at a comfortable height, all of the goop is contained, then I can drive the carcass straight out to bury in the compost pile when I’m done. But I almost needed a shop vac or something to get rid of all the fluid just so I could see her organs; the whole tractor bucket was filling up with them. So, I mostly focused on looking for other lambs and what was happening in her uterus. I did find a uterine horn with what looked like a very decomposed lamb- just a bunch of liver-colored goop, with a few barely-bony components I could feel with my gloved fingers. And, her lungs were deep purple. So, she was coping with infection in two places, despite all those antibiotics. Maybe it just went systemic, or maybe she had a drug-resistant form of bacteria; we all know the concerns about that. I forgot to look for parasite load, so she may have also had some of that going on too, despite being de-wormed previously.

I don’t think there was much else I could have done to save her. So there is some comfort in that; it is what it is.

Her lambs bellered at her body all day before I got it out of there, in that super whiney, nerve-grating tone of distress (even though I was feeding them, so I knew they weren’t going hungry). They calmed down once I got her outta there, but still complained all through the next day. After that, they moved on emotionally. They were anxious for their bottle feedings for a few days, but even that has tailed off as they are apparently making a living bumming off the other ewes in the barn. I’m still trying to insist they drink some from the bottle, because I know they’ll have a harder time bumming once they go outside. They are just vigorous little girls, constantly vying for opportunities to nurse of any ewe they can sneak, acknowledging me with friendly greetings, then going about their business with good cheer and demeanor. It never ceases to amaze me how hardy and adaptable the strongest lambs are. Those lil’ buggers are tough!

Lamb count today is 101, and I have four ewes left to deliver, all looking like they should be “soon.”

Edema in abdomen, legEdema in tail, vaginal area

Remnants of a fetus

Purple lungs (liver in upper right, lungs lower left)