My oldest ewe, Madge, has made this year interesting to say the least. She has had problems lambing every year. It looked like she never got rebred and I was agonizing over what to do. I can’t afford to keep a ewe that can’t produce for us, but Madge is so sweet and so sociable, the idea of culling her was really upsetting me. Luckily, I decided to give her a bit more time. Oddly, within just a couple of weeks she went from looking barren to being enormous and bagged up. I put her in the lambing shed with the camera on her so I could observe her, thinking she was ready. Several different nights she carried on, pawing, pacing and acting as if it might be imminent, before barking up a cud to chew and sleep the rest of the night. I finally gave up and kicked her out in the pasture with the others.
Because she was so much bigger than she has ever been before, I was worried about her possibly getting rolled over in the shelter by the other sheep and not being able to get back up. This usually has fatal results as sheep suffocate when this happens. I decided she could stay out by day, and come back in at night, so I could watch her on ‘ewe-tube’ and determine if she was going to go into labor or if I could actually just go to bed.
Another week went by and her udder enlarged to proportions I have never seen on any of my sheep before. She looked more like she had the endowment of a Jersey cow. Appalled, I checked her over thoroughly and figured it was a good bet this would be the night.
Around 9:30 she was showing some definite signs of impending labor. I watched alone, unable to nap, in case she got in trouble while I slept. Around midnite I woke up my partner in crime who has never seen an animal give birth. I headed out to the lambing shed with my bag of tricks while she got dressed. Bruno, who usually attends all the birthings with me came in and we sat in the back of the shed. Madge was a little unsettled when our 'Roomie' stepped in, but being a very social ewe who was familiar with her, she settled after a few minutes and hard labor began.
The water bag presented with a lamb's head close behind. No front legs. Again. As soon as Madge went down pushing hard, I put on latex gloves, lubed my hand up good with lube as warm as I could keep it in the 14 degree air under my coat and slipped my hand inside. It took a minute or two to find a front leg and hook it with my finger, bringing it up carefully. The lamb was small enough that with a little twist he popped right out. A ram lamb. Again. No bother, he will be a freezer lamb, but I was so hoping for a ewe lamb from her as she is my only purebred ewe.
As she babied and bonded with #1, #2 made its appearance without any sign of contractions or pushing. I figured this one was gonna be a breeze and for once, she could deliver one by herself. Then things went bad. Another head unaccompanied by legs. A much larger head. I reached in and attempted to push the lamb back but Madge started pushing so I had to wait. With my arm caught inside. The lamb was not going to go back any further than its ears. I managed, again, to find a front leg after much probing and searching, and feeling so badly for Madge who by now was very uncomfortable. With a lot of work I managed to get it straightened out, but the lamb wasn’t coming. It was stuck. The other leg and shoulder were caught underneath Madge’s pelvic bone. No matter how many times I tried to push the lamb back, there was no getting it unstuck. I couldn’t get my hand underneath there as there was not enough room and my hand couldn’t bend back to scoop it anyway. I kept trying to rotate the lamb sideways which is easier, as there is more room side to side than top to bottom, but the shoulder was still below the rim of the pelvis. I continually twisted, lubed, probed, and despaired of either of them surviving. I didn’t think I was gonna be able to get that lamb delivered. FINALLY it’s body turned enough I was able to press the shoulders up with my fingertips and the front half of the lamb was out...hanging up behind, but easily fixed as it slid back enough for me to straighten the legs out as it slid into the world and #2 was born.
I had to check to make sure there were no more lambs and there weren’t. Surprised a little at the small size of the two lambs in regard to how huge Madge was this pregnancy, I watched her. Knowing she had to have experienced unbearable pain during the delivery of these lambs I felt a little sickened. The lambs were fine and healthy. #2 lamb was a little traumatized and Madge was busy with #1, trying to lick him more while he tried to find the cafeteria. I brought #2 into the house at about 2:30 and dried him off well, grabbed a bottle and lamb nipple and headed out to the shed. The rubbing had stimulated him enough that he was now wanting to nurse so I got him underneath her and he found what he was looking for. I grabbed up all the rest of the supplies, shot a bit of antibiotic infusion to her to help discourage infection and headed back to the house. Sleep didn’t come until 5 a.m.
TheMan said goodbye at 8:30 and I dragged myself up to join our Roomie and feed critters. NO small task as the bales are 1600 lb bales and a very small flake is 4x5 feet and very heavy. Even with two of us, I usually have more alfalfa leaf in my hair than I leave behind in the feeder.
When I checked on Madge and the lambs she still had not passed the afterbirth. She dove into her hay, just happy with the world and her new lambs to whom she was very attentive.
I went to the house, found my oxytocin that helps start contractions, another tube of antibiotic and dropped a note online in the sheep section of TheFamilyCow. Her contractions started on their own, so I didn’t have to administer a shot or do anything but check on her. She would lay down and push hard, the lambs would beg her to get up and she would stand and let them nurse. This went on all day. Some progress was made, but she still had not cleaned by nightfall. Not unusual or particularly alarming, from my understanding. After feeding cows, horse, sheep and chickens again we turned off Madge's light so she could sleep better at night.
Come morning, Roomie and I were up again and headed out to feed. I looked in the lambing shed and two hungry lambs were bleating and nudging their mother trying to raise her up.
She had died in the night.
My hurt lurched up into my throat as tears threatened to overflow. She was the friendliest ewe in the flock. I had agonized over what to do with her just weeks earlier, when I thought she was unbreedable. We can’t afford to keep a sheep that doesn’t produce as it costs too much to hay feed them in the winter. I would have to cull her or feed her to the dogs. Either way, selling her or using her ourselves, she’d be butchered. I suppose this made things easier as I knew she would eventually die lambing if I continued to breed her, because she had problems like this every time. She was likely to pass on whatever was wrong with her if she gave me a ewe lamb. I managed to get my emotions under control by the time Roomie caught up.
Madge had looked so good the morning after. Happy and eating and making much over her newest lambs. I mixed some painkiller in with applesauce and grain for her hoping she would eat it and it would make her more comfortable. She didn’t seem to want to eat or drink. The contractions were coming more often. I was concerned, but hoped the afterbirth would pass quickly and she’d be fine. It was not the way things turned out.
In God's grace, He made the decision for me and gave me two more lambs before He took Madge. For that, I am grateful.
The orphan lambs are in the house now as they cannot regulate their body temperature yet. We are bottle feeding them some more colostrum I saved from one of the goats, as it has a little more fat to it. They will have to adjust to powdered milk replacer in the morning. I hope they do okay on it, as nothing is better for them than real raw milk. They have taken some solace in the Maremmas who will protect them throughout their lives, and are settling into their temporary spot in the house as they get their routine established.
Sometimes life hurts. But it also has its rewards.