Lambing is cruising along, up to 44 lambs this morning. I am on vacation from work now, which gives me a huge time breather. It is amazing how much of the day is eaten up by the routine: check for newborns and weigh & tag them; check for troubled births, assist; feed the bottle lambs; feed the herd am hay; fill the water buckets in the barn; move the fencing; move the water hoses and troughs; top off mineral feeders (they really hit the kelp hard in these last weeks of pregnancy…); get old ewe in the barn standing up and walking; medicate the ones that need it; launder wet clothes and used towels; feed evening grain; check, check, check. It’s easy to forget to eat in there, and lost sleep is part of the bargain.

On Sunday we had friends over for BBQ. The sheep happened to be pastured immediately below where we eat dinner at our picnic table. So I was able to keep an eye on the sheep until it got dark around 8:30. No births seemed to be happening. Our friends left a couple hours later, so I went down to do a final check around 11pm. As I approached, I saw a ewe on her side with her legs kicking in the air- a sure sign of a struggle to push out a stuck lamb.

I hustled to her, and saw that the lamb was in good position and a good ways out; but sometimes they get shoulder-locked in the pelvis, as this one was. This is trivial to fix, just a slight adjustment of pulling one leg forward ahead of the other will free it. I pulled it the rest of the way to give her relief, and slid him to her head so she could see him. Instead of a big sigh of relief from the ewe, she gave a big yell of pain. I looked back to see her uterus had followed the exit of the lamb. No good. It is amazing how much pain this apparently causes- I’m not sure if it’s the sensation of an internal organ exposed to the cold, or the pain of the organ constricted through the cervix, or whether the organ signals pain because it’s turned inside out, or maybe the placental buttons are getting forcibly detached too quickly, or all four.

I pulled the ATV around to shine my headlights on her, and grabbed my bag. A trick I learned from a vet is to have a bottle of iodine handy, and a small water bucket. Then you can make a disinfectant wash and scrub up right there. Ideally if the uterus has to be washed, it should be warm/tepid water. But luckily, the organ wasn’t that far out of her body yet, and she was rotund enough that it was hanging in midair, not touching the ground. I slipped a towel underneath just to ensure it stayed off the grass. I scrubbed up, lubed up, and proceeded to push it back in.

This is the first one I’ve done, and boy, it is like pushing a wet noodle. Slippery, squishy, and soft; and with fighting the ewe’s contractions, it’s a two-steps-forward, one-step-back kind of deal. In retrospect, I think I should have put on long OB gloves; I was acutely aware of the roughness of my hands and the sharpness of my fingernails and ring as I tried to moosh this delicate organ back into her body. Blood was everywhere, hopefully just from causing the placental buttons to detach too early, and not from damage to the uterus itself. Swearing and apologies ensued, I felt like Edward Scissorhands wrestling with an anemone. Torrential rain, tiredness, and laying in the mud didn’t help my mood. It feels like forever, and you keep re-evaluating your situation: should I call for help, should I go consult my books or the web, should I try to move her to the barn, or should I just go for it? It seemed as though time was of essence, as the more minutes allowed to pass, the more she would have pushed it out further, the more dirt would get involved, the longer the lamb would wait to get colostrum, and the worse the situation would become. So I chose the expedite route.

I imagine it only took me a couple of minutes to get it back in, and my instinct was to push it wayyyy back in, to try to encourage it to stay there! The moment it was done, I went to pet her head and offer some words of sympathy; but she popped up, stood with no problem, and started licking and talking to her lamb. Crisis averted, I guess! it is amazing how tough sheep are, to go from screaming pain to normalcy in a matter of minutes. I put her in a prolapse retainer and harness, gave her a shot of antibiotics and Banamine, and took a three hour nap. Upon re-check, she had passed her placenta fine through the retainer, and the ewe-lamb pair seemed right as rain. The next day I hauled her up to the barn so I can keep her on a longer regimen of antibiotics; since, as clean as you try to be in these operations, they are still very, very dirty. It’s a lot of bacteria to send into a bodily cavity that’s planning to close the door for the season over the next 24 hours…. (Incidentally, whenever a potential lamb buyer asks me, “so you never use antibiotics, right?” I say “Let me give you a scenario…” Even the most hippie granola person can understand the warrant for antibiotics in this extreme case.)

I re-read some literature on the right way to handle uterine prolapses. I should have put an antibiotic bolus in, I have them on hand, but forgot in my midnight stupor. Apparently you’re also supposed to feel all the way down to the tip of the uterine horn, to make sure you basically turning the whole “sock” right side out after it has inverted itself. Or, you can fill the cavity with warm saline solution and let the water do that job. So something to remember for next time, hopefully her subsequent pregnancies will be ok. The nice thing is that I was there and ready to respond with the right equipment within minutes of the prolapse; versus sometimes you could find the ewe had been lying there for hours with her uterus lying in the dirt, swelling, and drying out. Those, I imagine, are much more dramatic to resolve.

In comparison to last year’s vaginal prolapses, this was a much harder structure to push back in. In vaginal (pre-birth) prolapse, the uterus has babies in it, and amniotic fluid under some pressure; so it’s like pushing a hard baseball back in. But uterine (post-birth) prolapse is so amorphous, soft and slippery, it’s really tricky to coax it to go back where it came from. Another interesting fact is that vaginal prolapses are considered potentially genetic and repeatable, so it is recommended to cull those ewes. Uterine prolapses are considered to be more random, and not likely to repeat; so the ewe can be retained and bred in the future. This ewe is age five and has never had pregnancy or birth complications before. This lamb was larger than I prefer, at 13.25 lbs, but not particularly gigantic. What he does have is huge bone and big joints, which I think contributed to his getting hung-up in the birth canal. I know “show people” love a big-boned animal, but boy, I sure don’t. Lambs with more refined legs are definitely more suited for being born easily than a Clydesdale type.

In the end, all seems to be well, the ewe and lamb are doing fine. Now it’s time to go check for newborns again! Happy Wednesday!