Friday, March 11, 2011

The first thing

The first thing I found when I walked out to the barn this morning, was a cold lamb, lying at her mother’s feet on the ice. I ran back to the house, filled a bucket with warm water, grabbed some clean towels and went back to the barn.

The second thing I saw when I walked out to the barn this morning, was the mother of the cold lamb and a black ewe both sniffing another little white lamb lying in the straw. Which ewe did that lamb belong to? I set the cold lamb in the bucket and figured out how to prop its head on the side of the bucket. Until the lamb warmed a little and started to struggle, she should be safe. I needed to figure out which ewe the new lamb belonged to and get the pair penned so they could bond in peace. I headed toward the back of the barn and our last two open jugs.

The third thing I saw this morning before I got to the back of the barn, was a white ewe and the black and white spotted baby thief arguing over two big black lambs who still had their tails – obviously newborn.

I spread fresh straw in the jugs and turned on the heat lamps. The white lamb was nursing on the black ewe. The cold lamb hadn’t moved in the bucket of warm water. I picked up the two black lambs and backed down the barn. The baby thief and the white ewe both followed, the baby thief inserting her body between the babies and the white ewe, no matter how I twisted and turned. I set the babies down in front of their pen and looked carefully at both ewes. The white ewe had a few bloody splotches on her udder; the baby thief’s udder and legs were clean. I wrestled her out of the way, opened the jug panel and slipped the babies onto the straw under the heat lamp. The white ewe pushed in after them. I closed the panel and the baby thief threw herself against it. I tied it tightly and then did a quick pelvic exam on the white ewe to make sure these really were her babies. Her nipples had milk and her uterus had mucous. Even though the babies were black and she was white, I was fairly certain that I had guessed correctly.

When I went back to the cold lamb, she was dead.

Now I had to figure out which ewe the live white lamb belonged to and it was more important than ever. If I gave a lamb to a pregnant ewe, she might not be able to nurse it yet and it would die. Both ewes had amniotic fluid shining on their udders. The white ewe had blood staining her udder, her vulva, and her legs. I had seen her licking the cold lamb. Both ewes were licking the live lamb. But the lamb was trying to nurse again on the black ewe, I chose her as the mother and carried the lamb to the last open pen. Both ewes followed, but the white ewe circled back to her dead baby when I closed the pen on the black ewe and the lamb. I checked the black ewe for milk and mucous in her vagina. She had definitely lambed recently and in spite of the fact that I had two black lambs with a white ewe, and one white lamb with a black ewe, I felt comfortable with my decision. It didn’t matter in the long run, because I had no record of the genetic history of either mother.

A fourth ewe was going into labor. She was a big ewe. If she had more than one baby, I could maybe graft her second baby onto the mother whose baby had died. If we laid the live baby next to the dead baby, maybe she would transfer her interest.

The last thing I saw when I left the barn this morning for a quick, late breakfast, was ewe number 5 orange licking her dead baby.

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