Tuesday, February 23, 2016

20 orange

Yesterday, 20 orange lambed. It was almost anticlimactic; it had been  over three weeks, since I'd spent 36 hours worrying that she would die  if I didn't figure out what was wrong with her.

This time it was obvious that she was in labor, not just tired of being pregnant. She groaned and grunted. Her head went up during each contraction. When I did a pelvic exam, I didn't feel baby lamb parts, just the thin, filmy tissues that float around a lamb in the uterus. She wasn't quite ready to lamb yet.

I fed hay to the ewes and milk to the bottle lambs. I poured corn into buckets for each ewe in a jug and refreshed their water. Then I rechecked 20 orange's status. I could feel feet at the tips of my fingers.

I moved the dirty straw out of jugs we had just emptied of sheep. I rebedded those jugs, ready for the next moms to lamb. I hung a heat lamp over the jug I would use for 20 orange. I rechecked her pelvis.  Way back as far as my hand could reach into her uterus I could feel two hooves and a head. They weren't positioned correctly and I couldn't reach far enough to determine if they were all part of one lamb. When I pulled on the hoof, it pulled back. No matter how hard I pulled and how hard I held on, the little hoof slipped from my fingers

20 orange had now been in labor for at least two hours. I start to worry after about half an hour for experienced mothers. Two hours was way past my worry date. When Dave came out to see how we were doing, I turned the obstetrician's job over to him.

Slowly, steadily, Dave pulled on the lamb's two front legs. The head moved with them. "I think they all belong to the same lamb," he said. "Yes."

I watched from 20 orange's head as he pulled the lamb from her vulva. He handed the baby to me and I laid her in front of her mom. Then I grabbed a towel and cleaned the amniotic sack, mucus and amniotic fluid off the baby's face so that her first breath would be air.

20 orange began to lick her lamb. She licked whatever part was closest to her tongue. I moved the lamb so that she would be working on it's face as I rubbed it's abdomen to encourage those first shuddery breaths.

"This next one is tangled," Dave said. He worked one handed, eyes closed in concentration.When he pulled her out of her mother's uterus, she looked perfect, but her body was limp.  She didn't have a heart beat and I couldn't make her breathe, even by swinging her over my head.

"There's something wrong with this lamb" Dave said as he eased lamb number three out into the cold air. It was definitely dead. Small and dark brown, it hardly looked like a lamb. Dave sat back on his heels, head down.

"Well," I said, speaking through my sorrow, "at least we have one live lamb. That's really more than I was expecting after giving her the dexamethasone to induce labor all those weeks ago."

Dave slid his hand back inside of 20 orange one last time and pulled out a small brownish lamb covered with muddy brown mucus.  This lamb wasn't limp. It's body twitched. She swung her head up and sneezed. When I rubbed, she shuddered and began to breathe. In minutes she was standing, looking for her mom's udder.

Even though we use it to induce labor, the bottle of dexamethasone warns not to give it to pregnant animals. Three weeks ago when I realized that 20 orange was not going to lamb any time soon,  I began to worry what the effect of that drug would be. We'll never know why out of four lambs, only two were live births. We'll never know why one of the dead lambs seemed grossly malformed and why one looked perfect and yet they were both dead. We'll never know how the little brown lamb survived in an amniotic environment that looked more like mud than anything that belongs in a living animal.

The one thing we do know is that after thirty years of lambing and hundreds of births, we still don't know what to expect when we go out to the barn to help a ewe give birth to a lamb.

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