Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Life or Death

Yesterday I came home from the store and went out to feed sheep.  

One was missing, the oldest ewe.  It's a bit early for lambing! 
 I searched the pasture and found her struggling on the ground behind a clump of brush.   There was a lamb head and feet sticking out of her trying to be born, but she was shaking and exhausted.  I took off my good leather gloves and took a grip on the slimy little head.   With some gentle pulling it wasn't coming.  I went back to the house, prepared some honey water solution in a syringe and made the trek back out, so I could feed it to the ewe.  Some quick energy that might help the trembling and exhaustion.  I was really worried though, because sheep are not like people.  Lying there, straining, is not normal for them.  They generally give a few good contractions and a lamb pops out, sometimes even as they are standing up.  She looked like she was dying, actually.

I ran back to the house and called Master "What should I do?" He said continue the gentle traction, no hard pulls, and call my mom.

 I went back out again with more honey water for the ewe, and gently applied downward traction, pulling on the lamb's slippery head and feet.  I tried to pull during contractions, but they were pretty weak. 

There was a third forefoot sticking out!  A tangle of lambs to sort out.     
I discovered that I had been pulling one foot that belonged to that first lamb and another foot that belonged to the lamb behind it!   So I pulled only on the one lamb and it eventually slid out.  Crouching there on the bloody, muddy, shitty, snowy ground I felt like I was living in a James Herriot story.   The second lamb slipped out with another pull.    The first lamb was already dead, but the second had a pink mouth and a tongue flicking around.  I wiped down the face from goo and membranes (I had thought to bring towels) and it gave a little cough.  I gave it a vigorous swing, and a rubbing to simulate the mom's licking.  She was still lying there on her side, feet stuck out and trembling, not looking around for her babies as she should normally have been.  

I took the live lamb in the house and began to warm and dry and rub it. This is what hairdryers are for, right?
I called my mom at that point to see if there was anything else I should be doing.   She thought the ewe might get up if I left some food and water close by her.   Honey water is good energy.

So I took the ewe some hay and water, and propped her up on her chest.  The honey must have been taking effect as she immediately started to nibble hay.  The look in her eyes had changed to one that might take an interest in living after all.  

Back up to the house, I prepared some colostrum (doesn't everyone keep powered colostrum in the freezer?  Ok, just farmers maybe).   The lamb was warm enough to feed, but he couldn't get the hang of sucking.  His tongue was flicking to the side and his head seemed a bit misshapen from his trip through birthing.   I hoped it would sort out, but meanwhile I squeezed drops of milk into his mouth and he swallowed them. 

Another trip out to the ewe with more honey.  I gave it to her, then tried to get her to stand.  I had to lift her up, but then she tottered about 20 feet before collapsing again.   Then I heard the tiniest little "baaa".  I searched around but couldn't find anything.  I almost thought I'd imagined it but then I heard it again.  "Baaaa."  I looked some more, and behind a tree and a partial fence, curled up in the snow and practically invisible was a tiny white lamb.  She was really cold, but had obviously been licked clean.   I took her to the house as well, calling Master with a "Guess what I found." 

I applied the hairdryer and some towels, and a heating disk underneath the box in which I'd put both of them.   

The tiny lamb warmed up eventually, and she ate pretty well, but still was weak.  She was so much tinier than the male.  

One more trip out to see the mama ewe, to see if I could move her to the barn yet under her own power.  

On the way I discovered a brand new baby with a different ewe! They were looking healthy but I needed to get them in the barn.  The easiest way to move a new baby and mom is often to pick up the baby and walk slowly backwards, bent over, holding the lamb near the ground so the ewe will follow.  It's not easy, but it works.  If you just pick it up and walk away normally, she won't see it (lambs don't fly!) and she will just circle around to the last place she left it.  
 In a few minutes I had her and the lamb inside a stall.   

I tried to move the weak ewe, but she wouldn't walk and I could only carry/drag her a dozen feet before I was worn out.  So I waited for Master.  I couldn't get her that far on my own.

I bedded down a stall with straw.  I went inside and made dinner. I was so exhausted every time I sat down I was just staring at the computer, face hanging, unable to read anything.  I knew I needed to eat something.  

Master got home, and together we half carried, half walked the ewe into the barn, because she definitely wasn't in any shape to be outside. 

This morning the lambs are still alive, although the little one is weak.  The ewe hasn't stood up, but she's alive, drinking and eating. 


  1. What an experience. I have such respect for farmers; not something I think I could handle (though I guess you can get used to anything).

    I very much enjoyed this story, thank you.

    1. I don't know if I can handle it some days. When there is something that died I'm always left wondering "Why am I doing this?" But when they don't die, that's why.

  2. So much excitement! Is it normal for sheep to have triplets??

    1. It is pretty common. Twins are better though, as there is more chance of both being big and healthy.


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