Thursday, March 5, 2009

Morning sun

The sun through the morning mist painted the air yellow. It glowed on the ridges and snow cornices sculpted by yesterday’s south wind. In the barn, Apple Blossom lay in a patch of sunlight. Everybody was still asleep: lambs curled next to their mothers, the quartet of bottle babies under the heat lamp, yearlings with their heads on the backs of their siblings.

I hated to disturb them. But I needed to know that each animal was sleeping contentedly, not just laying there, exhausted or sick. I walked through the crowd, encouraging the ewes to their feet. They grumbled and complained, but eventually all 46 animals milled around the barn. By this time, fourteen of the fifteen lambs were up and either loudly insisting that mom stand still so that they could nurse, or that I come to the group pen RIGHT NOW and feed them.

Fourteen of the fifteen lambs. Rooster’s little white girl lay curled in their pen. I lifted her up and set her on her feet. She wobbled and staggered. She didn’t stretch or wriggle.

I felt her belly. Concave, not fat and firm like the belly of a full lamb. I urged her toward Rooster’s udder. The lamb didn’t seem to know what to do. I knew the lamb had nursed just after she was born, shortly after midnight. Had she forgotten how in the last seven hours?

I emptied the rest of the lamb milk into a second bottle and rinsed out the feeder bottle. New born lambs aren’t supposed to have anything but colostrum in their bellies for the first 24 hours. Anything else shuts down the lamb’s ability to absorb antibodies from it’s mother’s milk. I planned to express colostrum from Rooster’s udder and then feed it to the lamb. So I needed a bottle uncontaminated by milk.

Rooster let me express an ounce of her colostrum. I poured it into the empty feeder bottle and screwed on the nipple. Rooster’s baby wouldn’t even suck on the bottle. Little shivers ran across her body. Rats! I had to get some colostrum into this lamb before she ran out of energy and we had to do major resuscitation.

I put the lamb back into Rooster’s pen and ran to the house for a gavage tube and syringe. The sky had turned an ugly gray, all the light drained from the morning.

I slid a six inch gavage tube into the side of the lamb’s mouth and down her throat past the opening to her lungs. She didn’t cough or choke, so I pushed the plunger on the syringe and forced the colostrum into her stomach. Then I settled the lamb back in the pen, under a heat lamp with Rooster.

Two hours later when we returned to the barn, the lamb stretched a minuscule amount and refused to eat when Dave tried to put her on her mother’s nipple. Her belly felt full.

Sunlight once again stretched into the barn through the open door. The ewes had settled down for post-breakfast naps in the sun’s warmth. The lambs nested with their mothers in piles of straw. Time for the shepherds to return to the house, at peace, because their animals were also at peace.

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