Wednesday, April 16, 2008


So, as I was saying... Lamb-a-palooza finally hit here late Sunday night.

Mona, who was several days overdue, finally went into labor just before midnight on Sunday. Finally! But when I saw the first lamb toe protruding, it was upside-down. And there was only one foot showing. Uh-oh! A partial breech birth---my first.

I scrubbed up, put on a glove and lube, and reached in to find the other hind foot. Fortunately, it was easy to find. Once I had both hind feet, I pulled as smoothly and quickly as I could to get the lamb out before it breathed in any birth fluid. It took a bit of effort, but out came a big white ewe lamb.

I quickly wiped out her nose and mouth and listened. She didn't seem to have the gurgling breath of a lamb that has nearly drowned, so perhaps all was well. Still, even though she was awake and looking around, she didn't stand up at all. She seemed kind of slow and dazed.

I waited for an hour before the next lamb started to be born. Some gross-looking part of the placenta I didn't recognize seemed to be coming out first, with no sign of the lamb. I knew that couldn't be a good sign, so at around 1:45 a.m. I reached in again.

Another bad sign: When I reached the lamb in the birthing canal, I couldn't identify what part of it I was touching. Head? Feet? Where were all the familiar lamb-shaped landmarks? Finally, after repeatedly groping two things that I kept WANTING to be lamb legs, I realized that they were the lamb's hocks (the pointy joints on its hind legs). This lamb was a full breech, and the part that I kept wanting to be the lamb's head was actually its butt.

This lamb seemed small, so rather than taking time to straighten out the hind feet, I just pulled on the part I could reach, the hocks, and out it came---a dead ram lamb.

Correction. A VERY dead ram lamb. One that had been dead inside its mother for quite a while, and was already starting to decay. It had a brown, bald, pickled look to its head, and a foul, foul smell.

After disposing of the dead lamb, I gave Mona a Penicillin shot, in case having that dead thing inside her might have given her some kind of infection. The ewe lamb did get up and nurse, so she got her much needed colostrum.

At the same time that Mona's births were going on, Phoebe was in labor in the nearby pen. Between Mona's first and second lambs, Phoebe gave birth to a white ram lamb, unassisted. A short time later, she gave birth to a white ewe lamb. The ewe lamb was coming out with just the head and one foreleg extended. Phoebe could have birthed it herself, but since I was right there, I helped her out by giving it a pull. Two healthy twins!

By 2:00 a.m. I had gotten the lambs and mothers as settled as I could, and fell into the barn bed for a much needed sleep. By about 8:00 a.m. Peri was in labor, and around 9:15 a.m. she gave birth to a white ram and a white ewe.

Six white lambs born within 10 hours of each other! Good thing I bought all those lamb tags, I thought. With so many white lambs arriving, I'd be hard pressed to tell them all apart otherwise, once they were running around together outside.

When Moriah went into labor a few hours later---around midday on Monday---I thought, at last we'll get a colored lamb. But wait a minute---why are those toes that are coming out of her WHITE? It is genetically impossible for Moriah and Nicholai to produce a white lamb together. What's going on?

Surprise! After all this time, we discover that Moriah carries the spotting gene. We knew Nicholai carries it, but we'd never had any indication before this that Moriah carried it too. So at about 1:00 p.m. on Monday, Moriah had a black and white spotted ewe lamb. We were disappointed that it was only a single, but it's a girl and big and colored and vigorous, so we're not complaining very much.

In the midst of all this, I was working to finish our taxes, making arrangements and doing the paperwork for my mare Andromeda to be sold, and Ken was rushing around getting ready for a business trip that will take him out of town for a few days. In addition to getting himself ready, he was trying to help with as many of my farm-related chores as possible to make it easier on me after he left.

He hauled extra hay up to the barn for me, helped me make sure all the lamb's ears were tagged, repaired some lamb-sized gaps in the fences, and even got groceries for me. Meanwhile, I was so exhausted from lack of sleep that I could barely form a coherent thought.

Around 2:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning, I was awakened by a sheep bleating out in the nursery paddock. Sometimes a sheep will just wake up in the night and bleat to find out where everyone else is, but this bleating persisted for a while, so I crawled out of my barn bed to go see what was wrong.

Our nursery pen has one long narrow area between a shed and the fence. We use it to corner sheep who are difficult to catch, because once they get into this area, they can't get past us to get back out again. At the end of this narrow passage, there is a large tree, with only several inches of space around it on each side. New lambs love to wander into this narrow gap behind the tree, and new mothers hate it because they can't get to their lambs from there.

Apparently, during the night, Mona's ewe lamb had wandered behind the tree and Mona had gone in after her. Mona had managed to get around the back of the tree and headed out the other side before she got herself wedged between the tree and the mesh fence. It was her that had been bleating---calling for help because she was stuck as tight as a cork in a bottle.

I pushed her backwards as far as I could---It's not like I fit into that narrow gap either!---and then reached around from the other side and pulled her out by her back legs. It was reminiscent of delivering that breech lamb earlier.

Soon she was free and reunited with her baby, and I went back to bed.

Two hours later, I was awakened by Pandora bleating in the final stages of labor, and got up from my barn bed in a rush just in time to see her deliver a big white ewe lamb. Another single from a ewe who usually gives me twins. Hmm... I may need to look into my nutritional program---or perhaps it's just an effect of the extreme hot, drought we were having during breeding season last fall.

Shortly after sunrise, I peeked into the other sheep paddock and discovered that one of my yearling polled ewes, Halsa, had lambed a day early, all by herself in the paddock. The lamb---a black spotted mouflon ewe---was up, dry, and nursing by the time I saw her around dawn.

Soon after that, the man arrived to pick up Andromeda, the horse I sold. She had never been on a trailer since she was a weanling, so it took quite a while to get her loaded. She wasn't panicked about it, she just wasn't sure she wanted to get on the trailer. Fortunately the new owner was kind and patient and we all took as much time as we needed to let her load calmly instead of trying to rush her.

I've had her since she was just a few months old, so it's weird to have her leave during a time when I am so busy and sleep deprived that I hardly even notice that she's gone. She'll be loved and spoiled at her new home, so I know she'll be happy. But I was too tired to think about it much at the time!

By the time Andromeda was gone, I went back to check on all the sheep and noticed that Mona's lamb was not doing well. Was it complications from the breech birth? An infection from being in the womb with her decaying twin? Did she get too chilled during the night when Mona was stuck next to the tree? I didn't know. I gave her a shot of penicillin, took her inside to warm her up thoroughly, and tried to bottle feed her, but she really wasn't responding very much. Finally I took her back out to her mother.

At 2:30 that same afternoon, Poppy went into labor and delivered a white ewe and a moorit ram. That was a surprise too, since Poppy is one ewe that has only ever had singles before. So maybe the problem with Pandora's and Moriah's singles didn't have anything to do with my feeding program. Perhaps it's just luck.

Poppy, never having dealt with twins before, was quite confused. She kept licking the firstborn white ewe lamb and ignoring the moorit ram. I think she just assumed he was a piece of afterbirth until he started squalling. Then she paid attention to him for a few seconds before going back to the ewe, whereupon he squalled again to get her attention.

A few repetitions of this, and the twins' sibling rivalry quickly escalated into lambie screaming matches. Two louder little creatures you have never heard. And they both have learned that yelling gets mom's attention, so they yell at the top of their lungs at every opportunity.

Now today Ken left for his business trip, and I had the day off from lamb births, although I did spend a lot of time checking on all the new babies in the paddock, making sure no one got lost from his mother for too long. With so many white lambs, even the mothers get confused sometimes about who belongs to whom.

Mona's lamb continued to fail, and finally died this afternoon. Mona is fairly upset about it, poor thing. But she's thinner than I'd like her to be---something I didn't realize, through all her thick wool, until I was feeling around for a muscle to give her the penicillin shot. So maybe going a summer without having to nurse a lamb will help her get back into condition more quickly.

So that's the saga of Lamb-a-palooza. Sixteen lambs born so far, and we're expecting close to 40 altogether, so we're somewhere near halfway done now. We have a few more births expected scattered throughout the coming week, and then more later in the month too.

Maybe tomorrow I'll have a chance to put up some photos of all the newcomers.


Anonymous said...

Poor Mona. I hope she starts to recover soon. You are expecting FORTY lambs? Yikes. Good luck with all the rest of them then. I hope you are able find some rest through all of this too.

Rhea said...

Holy smokes. Those sheep are keeping you busy! Congrats on all the healthy births, and I'm so sorry about Mona's twins. How heart breaking!!

Hope you can get a good night's sleep now before the next wave. :o)

FullCircleEquine said...

Poor Mona. Poor little lambs

Hang in there1

farmer, vet and feeder of all animals said...

I'll email you about my twins.

Anonymous said...

What a rollercoaster ride! I am sorry about Mona's lambs. It is always hard to lose them, esp. on the moms. But I had to laugh about Moriah! Maybe she knew that her lamb with Nicholai would show an unknown side of her. Hope you finally got some rest last night. -- Kris

heather said...

Nancy: Looking forward to seeing YOU and all the little lambs this weekend. Looking forward to their names (need any help?-grins) and pics. I will bring my camera too. Peace to you and Mona and the little ones that passed. love!