Sunday, February 22, 2015

With a little help

Most sheep lamb completely on their own. They go into the barn to get out of the weather, find a quiet corner and lamb.

Every once in awhile, yearlings, ewes in labor for the first time, have no idea of what is happening to their bodies and need a little help. That's why we close the sheep into the barn every night, so yearly ewes don't have their babies on the manure pile on a moonless night where a shepherd won't find them, or under a dripping corner in a rainstorm, or in the sweep of the winter wind as it rounds the barn from the northwest.

Most ewes lay down in the straw and birth their babies easily, one after another, every twenty or thirty minutes until her placenta follows the birth of the last lamb and the contractions stop.

But some moms need help. The first lamb may be very large and barely fit through the pelvic opening. Or one of the lambs presents in a more difficult alignment, not front hooves and head first. Or twins and triplets may be tangled, one lamb's head presenting with another lamb's front feet. After a long labor, the ewe may even tire out, unable to deliver her last lamb.

All of these ewes need a little help from their shepherd. When we realize that labor is not progessing as it should, we can ease extra large lambs through the pelvic opening by adding a gentle pull to mom's pushes. We can rearrange lamb mis-presentations, moving a head until it centers over a pair of front hooves, or searching about inside the mother's uterus with our fingers, to locate the front legs that are actually attached to the head ready to be pushed out the vaginal opening. Sometimes we wash our hand and arm and insert it as far as we can into the ewe's uterus looking for a last lamb, which we then pull out.

Even lambs occassionally need help. Our ewe Dolly has a low hanging udder, her nipples almost touch the ground. It took her lambs almost 24 hour to stop looking high on her udder for nipples. With a bit of our help, they didn't starve to death while they were learning. Abi, the newest black lamb, bonded with Abi, the apprentice, immediately after she was born. We bottle fed the lamb until she learned that she could get  milk immediately from her mother but would have to wait for three hours for Abi the person to come back to the barn. The smallest triplet born so far this year has been bottle fed since the -20 degree night she was born. She had trouble standing and was weak after she was born and struggled to stand and nurse. Without a little bit of help, she wouldn't have survived.

Dave checks the sheep at 3 a.m. We both do the 10 p.m. check and I wake up and go out to the barn for the seven a.m. check.  Friday evening when we realized that we had several ewes lambing, I sent Dave to bed because I had Abi to help me deliver lambs, dry new lambs, clip and dip their umbilical cords and strip their mother's nipples so that they could nurse easily. Two and a half hours later, Abi and I staggered into the house and dropped into bed, knowing that the ewes were okay, the lambs had either nursed or been fed with a bottle and that Dave would be alert in less than three hours to care for the babies in the pens and any new babies. With a little help from Abi, I got to bed before Dave woke up for the next lamb check.

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