I’ve decided to blog this year about our lambing season. I miss posting and have had a hard time finding a time and a way to get back into it. I have been inspired recently by some blogs that I subscribe to and have been reminded of how important it is to post frequently and without some big agenda every time. Sending out daily updates around a long term process here is far easier than just coming up with a “topic” occasionally to write about.
It's March 1st, this is the first day, technically speaking, when we could have lambs based on the 145 day period between when we put the rams in and when first birth is possible. We shoot for march 1st each year as we are generally beyond most of the long cold snaps of the winter by March. Not spring yet but certainly better than lambs in January or February. We have been on high alert anyway because we decided this year to, for the first time ever, induce one of our ewes.
“Freckles” is our oldest ewe, one of 4 we brought here with us in 2009. We estimate her age around 12… she has been doing well but as she got bigger with lambs a week or so ago she stopped getting up. She has maintained a healthy appetite, generally an alert and purposeful disposition but just unable to stand. We have tended to her and she has generally kept up with all functions but has appeared to get weaker and weaker. So this past weekend we decided to call the vet and induce. Steroids are given and other injections to support the various processes and then you wait… usually 24 to 48 hours. Well, we passed the 48 hour mark Monday afternoon and were beginning to wonder what would unfold if she was not going to get those lambs out. We saw some signs of progress but nothing definitive.
On the cusp of our lamb date and with this ewe in process we decided to get up at 2am to check on things Tuesday morning. Usually things are quiet until very early morning and we generally don’t go out until 4 as a routine. We used to alternate (Laura and I) 1:30 am checks all though lamb season but stopped doing that last year. Anyway….Laura went out at 2:30 Tuesday and Freckles had her sac protruding and was clearly in labor. Two of our other sheep were also in labor and each had a healthy lamb on the ground when Laura came in the barn. After coming to wake me up we went back to keep an eye on Freckles, while we were doing that we noticed that there was another lamb coming for one of the other sheep in labor. Didn’t take long to realize that something was not right, the presentation was odd.. looked like a back hoof but even that didn’t look quite right. The ewe was struggling mightily and we decided to help it out.
The result of our efforts was to remove from that ewe a pretty complete but clearly not well (or alive) lamb. Generally referred to as a “mummy”, once in a while you see lambs like this… something along the way does not develop properly and the ewe carries to full term a non viable fetus. We have seen one of these before… the difficulty is understanding what you are dealing with in the moment… is it breach? is it stuck? is it twisted? At any rate this one was removed and disposed of, mom and the healthy lamb were fine.
About 4:30 we got the first lamb out of Freckles, nice and healthy, a female. Second lamb was slow in coming and had a poor presentation. Front feet were out as you would hope and expect but no head in sight. Its hard to describe just how difficult it is in those moments to understand what you are dealing with. Laura was feeling all around trying to assess but it was very difficult. Eventually she helped Freckles birth another healthy lamb, the head was turned back in presentation, so the nose was pointed the complete opposite direction from the two feet poking out. Makes for a very awkward passage down the canal but he came out and was also healthy. Needless to say Freckles was exhausted and we were seeing no signs of her producing milk.
More to come...
Day One Part Two
As Tuesday went on we became more and more certain that Freckles would not be producing milk. You generally have about 24 hours to get some colostrum into a new lamb before it starts going south. With Freckles down and not producing milk we know that these lambs will need some feeding from an alternate source. There are various options of “milk replacers” that come in a powder that you mix up and feed to the lambs. Same thing with colostrum, however we wanted to try getting these guys the real thing, at least initially. If this is the goal you can either milk some out of a lactating ewe or try to get another ewe to take on the milkless lamb. Two other ewes had delivered that morning and both ended up with singles.
We still had the fresh placenta from one of those other ewes and decided to try to “graft” Freckles’ female to this other ewe. After smearing her all over with as much fluid and placenta as we could to mask her scent we introduced her to the other new mom. It was certainly touch and go for the day but with minimal head butting she did let the little lamb nurse several times. We also took milk from the same ewe to administer to the other lamb so he too could get a couple doses of the real thing before switching over to the powder shake.
All in all I’d say we did the best we could here. Not certain what the future holds for Freckles at this point but that will likely become crystal clear in the coming days. The first goal was to save those lambs and out appears we have done that. If we see signs of recovery from the old ewe we will evaluate how long to keep her going, if we don’t the choice will be an obvious and humane one.