Sunday, April 13, 2008

I'm Going In!

Last night was an example of why I like to have the ewes lamb in the barn where I can watch them.

After another day of pseudo-contractions, Paris finally went into actual labor at around 9:30 p.m.

Queen of Multitasking, I had borrowed my husband's old laptop computer and was sitting there on my barn bed, typing all my tax information into a spreadsheet so Ken can take it with him to HR Block on Monday when he gets our taxes done. So I was there when Paris's water broke.

I kept typing, but watched for her labor to progress. Usually once the water breaks, the strong contractions start coming within an hour and shortly after that, you see the two-toes-and-a-nose that every shepherd wants to see (because if those are the first things that come out, the lamb is in the proper position and will probably be born without complications).

But Paris's contractions were half-hearted and infrequent. When nearly two hours had passed without any truly enthusiastic contractions, I started worrying that something was wrong, that the lamb was badly positioned or tangled up with its twin or something.

So I went to get Ken to hold Paris's head while I scrubbed up, put on a surgical glove, poured lube all over it, and "went in." Paris was dilated enough that I didn't have any problem getting my hand in, but at first I couldn't feel any lamb. I went in further, felt a toe, then another toe, then, a little further back, there was the head.

Hmm... The lamb was in the right position, and Paris was fully dilated. So why was the birth not progressing?

I try to interfere as little as possible in the births, so I left the lamb where it was and left Paris alone to continue her labor. Ken went back inside to go to bed and I continued typing my tax paperwork.

Another hour passed, and still Paris's contractions weren't very much stronger. Finally, she managed to get the two toes out just to the point where I could see them. Then she just stopped and didn't really push for a while.

By now, I was getting concerned for the lamb. If the birth process takes too long, it's hard on the lamb, and can also be hard on the lamb who's waiting in line behind the one that's in the birth canal.

Finally, I decided I'd go back in the pen and just help a little by pulling on the two hooves I could see. Paris is NOT a very tame sheep, so she didn't really like the idea of me messing around behind her that way, but once I caught hold of the toes and started to pull a little bit, it inspired her to lie down and start pushing again. With a goooshhh, out came the baby!

It was a big, slimy black gray ram lamb. Paris was not quick to jump up and start licking him, so I used the hem of my shirt to quickly wipe the slime out of his mouth and nostrils before he choked. Usually I use a paper towel, but I hadn't brought my lambing kit into the pen with me, and I didn't want to risk taking the time to leave the pen to go get it.

Then I backed off to let Paris lick him and bond with him. Pretty soon, a few more half-hearted contractions brought another lamb partway out. On this one, the sac didn't break, so it looked like she was giving birth to a big water balloon, only with a lamb's nose inside.

Once more, she didn't seem to be pushing as hard as she should at this point, so I went back into the pen and helped tug that baby out as well, being careful to break his sac so he wouldn't drown once he started breathing.

This one was another big boy, a moorit gray this time. After letting Paris have some time to lick them both off and bond with them, I dipped their navels in iodine and weighed them: 9 lbs., 1 oz and 8 lbs. 14 oz. Two BIG babies. No wonder Paris had been so huge and grouchy all this time! With the lambs out of her, her sides caved in to huge hollows behind her ribs, demonstrating just how much room inside her those babies had taken up.

The lambs were out, but my work was not yet done. Most Icelandic ewes and lambs figure out the nursing thing on their own very quickly with no outside help. But Paris is an extremely milky ewe whose enormous teats are wonderfully sized for milking her by hand, but when full and tight are very difficult for a newborn lamb to manage.

So I had to help the lambs find the huge, low-hanging teats. They did their best, but it was just too big a mouthful. As I suspected, I'd have to milk her out a bit before the lambs would be able to manage.

I'd just purchased an Udderly EZ sheep milking device, so I decided to give it a try. It's a great little device, but I've been told it takes a bit of practice to figure out how to get it working efficiently, and that seemed to be true.

I managed to get only about an ounce of colostrum out of each teat, and it was as thick as glue. The teats were no smaller, so I tried milking her by hand and managed to get a total of about 9 oz., which I promptly poured into an ice-cube tray and stuck in the freezer to make 1-oz serving sizes in case another lamb needs colostrum later in the season.

By the time all this was over, Paris's teats were deflated enough that I could guide the lambs to get that all-important first drink of colostrum that provides all the nutrients and antibodies they will need to stay alive. If a lamb doesn't get colostrum in the first 12 hours of life (preferably sooner), his immune system won't get enough of a jump start to help him thrive and survive.

At that point, it was after 2:00 a.m. and I was exhausted. I fell into the barn bed, pulled the covers over my head, and slept until the sheep woke me up again at 8:00.

Since I know Paris always produces more than enough for her own lambs, I milked out another 8 oz. of colostrum to freeze---this time using the Udderly EZ milker with much better success. Thanks to Paris's extra bounty, I have a nice start on my "colostrum cache" to save for emergencies.

The two new boys are still alive and well this morning, so I guess they have figured out how to nurse on their own now. They needed my help to get started right, but Paris is a good mother. She'll do the rest from here on out.


Anonymous said...

Congratulations Nancy! Phew! I'm exhausted just reading about your travails. Good luck with the rest of the flock. What great additions.

Andy said...

Wow, and here we just wait for the lambs to fall out and figure it all out on their own. :)

Nancy Chase said...

When that works, that's the best way to have it!

Amy - "Twelve Acres" said...

I'm so glad everything worked out with Paris' labor and delivery. Whew! I bet she feels much better now.