Friday, March 7, 2014

Resilient lamb

Two lambs were born last Friday night. Dave found them on his 3 AM trip to the barn, dried them off, got them into a jug with a heat lamp – the temperature outside was below zero. They looked cold, weak, and uncoordinated. He milked out their mother and fed both lambs. When I went out at 7 AM, in the clear light of day and after a complete night’s sleep, I realized that there was something wrong with the little girl. When she tried to move, her left leg dragged behind her and her skin wasn’t tight on her body. She just looked bad. I milked out her mom and fed both lambs. The little girl ate voraciously. When I set her down after feeding her, I thought her femur might be broken; a bump appeared and disappeared halfway up her thigh in certain positions.

When Dave woke up, we walked out to examine the little girl. He thought the head of her femur was dislocated from her hip socket, but he couldn’t reduce it, put it back into the socket. Assuming that our vet had more experience with four legged animals than we did, we asked him to stop by the farm.

When Dr. Weckwerth arrived, we laid a piece of plywood across a lambing jug and by the light of a heat lamp, with Dave holding the patient to keep her from squirming, he examined the lamb. A pretty resourceful vet. She definitely had a dislocated hip. He reduced it and then began winding first gauze and then tape around her lower leg and her upper leg, to keep the femur in the hip socket and the leg bent and up off the ground.
The lamb didn’t cry out while he worked, but she twitched, obviously uncomfortable. When we set her back in the jug with her mom and brother, she didn’t even try to get up. “She’s probably pretty sore from being manipulated,” Dr. Weckwerth said as he wiped black, tarry, new baby lamb poop off his hands. “Try to keep the sling on her for 10 to 14 days.”

Twenty four hours later, the lamb with a sling was dragging herself across around her pen. We left the family in their jug for six days, hoping that her right hind leg would become strong enough to support her. But when we moved them into the group pen, it soon became obvious that the genetic deformity that led to a dislocated left hip had also affected her right hip. She really wasn’t mobile. Her right hip didn’t stay in the socket. Every time she tried to move, she damaged her right hip more. This lamb who had tried so hard, who had struggled to us to nurse whenever we climbed into her pen, could not live without at least one more functional leg.

I can’t make this story turn out well, all we could do was to end the suffering of a resilient lamb.

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