Friday, February 25, 2011


Dave went off for his last work stretch before lambing and the next morning I went out to feed the sheep. The prolapse was back!

‘I’m sure I’ve handled one of these by myself,’ I thought. ‘Dave did two weeks ago. I don’t have to call the vet just because Dave isn’t home.’ I set the hog panels up in the barn to funnel the sheep into one end and then herded the flock around the barn and in the door. They moved beautifully. Then I closed a gate on them and tried to decide what to do next. The prolapse was dark red and huge; it had been out for awhile. I was going to have to catch the ewe, take her down on her side, sit on her, wash her vagina and the push it back inside before tightening the twines that were supposed to be keeping the prolapse in.

I went to the house for a bucket of warm antiseptic water. But as I was filling the bucket I realized that the chances of me catching the ewe and taking her down anywhere near the bucket were slim and the chances of having the bucket remain upright and full of clean water during the process were infinitesimal. I poured some of the hot water into Dave’s coffee thermos and stuffed it inside my coveralls. I was actually able to walk up to my sheep, but as I grabbed her harness, she darted away, dragging me behind her. My chest was pressed up against her hind end and I cringed at the thought of the damage I could be doing to her exposed vagina. Finally, she darted into a corner, I grabbed at the hog panel netting with my free hand, and we stopped moving forward. I moved carefully until I was sitting astride her body, facing back. I pulled the thermos out of my coverall, popped open the top and began pouring water over the exposed tissue. I brushed it gently with my hand, but didn’t feel straw or manure or anything nasty sticking to it. I slipped my engagement ring with its solitaire aquamarine off my finger and onto my silver bracelet and zipped them both in a pocket. I have learned from experience that those items don’t belong in sheep’s vaginas or uterus’.

I spread my left hand across the prolapsed tissue and pushed slowly. I could get about half the grapefruit sized mass back in, but from my position near her waist, there was no way I would have the leverage to do any better. Suddenly, I felt relieved. I was perfectly justified in calling the vet even if it would be an expensive visit that I probably wouldn’t have had to request if I had help. This was more than a job for me, alone.

Several hours later when Dr Weckwerth completed his clinic visits, he drove into the barnyard. he filled a bucket of lukewarm water and antiseptic – didn’t need a thermos with two of us working, grabbed his bag and a calf halter and we approached the flock. She let me walk right up to her and grab the twine. Then Doctor Weckwerth slid the harness over her head and she dragged us to a spot in a corner against the wall. I held her head and told Dr. Weckwerth the whole story beginning several weeks ago and including all my worries about cause and effect of prolapses this early before lambing – she was at the very least a week away still.. While I talked, he slid a slender needle into the the space between two vertebrae just above her tail and injected lidocaine, an epidural so that her body wouldn’t fight against the return of her vagina to the proper place. I can’t image sliding a needle into the backbone of a standing sheep and not only finding the correct spot, but injecting enough of the drug before she jrerked the needle out of place. It was a masterful job.

Soon, he slid her vagina in easily and he tucked her cervix back where it should be. As soon as he removed his hand, she prolapsed again. “Have you had any luck with prolapse retainers?” I asked. He shook his head. “Anecdotally, nobody seems to think they work.”

He pushed the prolapse back in again. “We could sew her vagina shut,” he suggested.

I hadn’t hear good stories about that. “I’ve read that the stitches tend to tear out,” I said, a chill running up my spine at the thought.

“There is that,” He agreed. “We could use a purse string suture.” Dr Weckwerth described how the stitches would encircle her vulva, closing the opening radially, leaving no places for the tissue to rip under pressure.

“I have no experience with this,” I said. “The twine harness has always worked for us in the past, but it isn’t working at all this time. We’ll go with whatever you think is best.” He threaded a huge needle with quarter inch wide umbilical tape and carefully sewed the opening to her vagina closed, leaving only a thumb sized opening. “You’ll have to cut the suture when she is ready to lamb,” he explained. “Hopefully, one leg and the lamb’s head will engage and slide right through the vagina. The down side would be if the leg and head push the vagina in front of them.”

That would be very bad. If a foot and head came out first, we could snip the tape when we felt the foot at her vaginal opening. Otherwise we’d have to have the vet out again to do a caesarian section. “Why do you think she prolapsed?” I asked as he packed away his supplies.

“In cattle it has a genetic component,” he said. That meant that I would not be keeping this ewe as part of my breeding flock. I’d been feeling bad that she had lost her number and as a vanilla white ewe with no distinguishing characteristics beside the prolapse, I had no idea who she was. But it would be easier to send a sheep with no name to the butcher to be made into sausage than one of my special friend, And working with a sheep over a number of weeks frequently makes them friends – so does naming them..

As we walked back to his truck, I felt that sense I always have during lambing of something about to happen. Even with a ewe who was probably going to require a caesarean, most likely in the middle of the night (because that’s when they happen inevitably), that feeling was positive, calm, expectant. Perhaps that’s why pregnant women are said to be expecting.

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