Lambing Drama

Agnes and Peggy were thoughtful enough to hold off lambing until after our April 1st move!

Agnes had a single ram yesterday afternoon.  He was beautiful and totally normal.  I wasn’t sure how Agnes would be as a mother, considering how her wild mother rejected her and her brother.  For a while, Agnes obsessed over licking her son long after he was ready to get down to the business of nursing.  Once I cleared out Agnes’ teats, however, she realized that letting her little lamb nurse would help relieve the pressure in her udder and soon they were an amazing nursing team.

Lambing at Night
Agnes and her son, figuring out this whole “working together” thing.
Pregnant ewes
Peggy is gearing up for a long night of labor. She looked like a tiny hippo.

As we were wrapping up with Agnes, we noticed that Peggy was looking like she might be going into labor.  We didn’t know how long she’d be, so I drove back to Williston for dinner.  Right after dinner, however, Priscilla called to say that Peg’s water had broken.  Given Peggy’s history, we both expected lambs within the hour.  I trundled back down Interstate 89 to Brookfield, only to find no progress.  Checks at 9pm, 10pm and 11pm still showed no gains, despite a great effort on Peg’s part.  At 11, I reached into the birth canal to feel for malpresentation of the lamb, but no lambs were past the cervix.  Strange…the amount of unproductive labor suggested something was amiss.  I felt unsure of what to do, given that I couldn’t identify any clear lamb-parts in my exploration.   So I set my alarm for 3am, and hoped that I’d find some lambs on the ground then.

I was disappointed to find Peggy on the ground at 3am, still laboring, no feet or noses evident.  Time for another exploration.  This time, however, there was a lamb in the canal.  Unfortunately, it was not the right part of the lamb!  Lambs should emerge nose-first, with both feet pointing forward.   This position allows relatively easy passage through the cervix and birth canal.

CORRECT
INCORRECT – breech position

What my fingers found was a tail head with no legs.  Full breech position, with legs pointed towards the ewe’s head.  I know from delivering goats that the technique in this case would be to find the hind legs and deliver the baby backwards.  In most ewes and does, this birth would be impossible and fatal for all without assistance.  After I few tries, I located the hind legs, which seemed hooked on Peggy’s pelvis by the hocks.  This was clearly a very large lamb!  I tried to pull the legs out, but no luck.  I was scared to rupture Peg’s uterus, which would cause certain doom.   I pulled out my hand and pondered.

Should  I call the vet?  At 3am?  He wouldn’t be pleased to hear from me, and I knew that Peggy could take a few more attempts from me before we called in the big guns.  I paused to ask for divine assistance, and reached into Peggy again, apologizing for the affront to her dignity.   Shoving the lamb forward, I unhooked one leg and then the other.  Grabbing the tail, too, I pulled the lamb down the canal.  Peggy’s contractions weren’t strong at all – I hadn’t realized how tired she really was, but the fact that I was handling this whole affair solo with no resistance from her should have been a clue!  I paused for a moment hoping she’d help push, but then I saw that the umbilicus was broken.  The lamb was trying to breathe inside the canal!  Time for action- I yanked the huge ram straight out without much protest from Peg.  He lay limp on the ground as I rushed to wipe away the amniotic fluid. (I recognize that I am setting up a traditional dramatic pause, but rest assured, it really felt like forever!)  I gave the lamb a few gentle, stimulating taps, and then gently swung him by his hind legs to get his diaphragm to mechanically expel fluid from his lungs.  When I set him down, he coughed, sputtered and let out a little bleat.  Peg responded with her characteristic “Mmmburble” sound, and they were off.  He bleated, and Peggy murbled and licked him dry.  Knowing it would be a while before he was ready to nurse, I went back to bed on the living room floor of Jake and Priscilla’s house.  I vaguely recall explaining something about a lamb and pulling to Priscilla at 6am, but I honestly don’t recall anything but her coming back from the barn to tell me that a second lamb was born and was healthy.

Sheep and Pickle Finewool Cross ewes
Peggy and her two ram lambs. The black one is lying down. Trust me, there are really two of them!

Getting the lambs to nurse became the work of this morning.  Peggy’s udder is larger and lower than ever- perhaps three inches off the ground and absolutely turgid with milk.  Both lambs had latched, but I milked Peggy out substantially to soften up her udder and gave each lamb a large meal by bottle so they’d have the energy to resume their work learning to nurse on their own.  At 2 this afternoon, both were nursing fine, and I was down for an hourlong nap.  Phew!

Natural Colored Finewool Lambs
Feeding the little black ram. Peggy gives us a black lamb and a while lamb every year, it seems!

2 thoughts on “Lambing Drama

  1. James Herriot-type experiences with a positive oucome! I’m so glad they’re OK.

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