Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Show Me a Sign!

No lambs yet, but Phoebe is definitely looking uncomfortable today. Her udder is full, she's breathing slightly faster than usual, and she's shifting her weight back and forth on her hind legs. She's not in labor yet, but I think the lambs are starting to move into position.

She might go into labor this afternoon, or we might still have days yet to wait. Which means I'll spend the intervening time diligently looking for Signs.

I'm sure predicting lambs is one of the most ancient forms of prognostication, older even than astrology or the reading of tea leaves. I'm sure every shepherd in history has spent eager days and nights looking for just the same Signs that I do today.

First, you look for the udder to fill up. Basically, it stops feeling like a half-full water balloon, and starts feeling like a completely full one. Phoebe has that now, and she's drinking lots of water today, presumably as she starts preparing to make milk.

Then you look for the minor signs of discomfort, and for the ewe to start being a little more interested in finding some privacy. Phoebe was showing that yesterday, which is why I decided to put her in the lambing pen in the first place.

Then you look for the lamb to "drop" into position in the birthing canal, which shows up externally when the ewe's flank---formerly bulging with lamb---suddenly hollows out. This one is a sure indication that lambing is coming soon. It's also a bit trickier to read, because there seem to be degrees of "drop."

Every year, I spend endless minutes walking around staring at my ewes' flanks, asking myself, "Is that hollowed? Has the lamb dropped? Is it now?" Every time the ewe breathes or moves, I'm wondering if it's show time.

It's even more tricky when, like now, we have had several days of rain. The wet weather dampens the sheep's fluffy wool, causing it to sink closer to their bodies. So suddenly it looks like ALL the ewes have dropped, when really it's just that their wool is wet.

Every year, I walk around looking at all the "kinda" hollowed flanks, wondering. And then when I see the first REALLY hollowed flank, I know for sure.

Phoebe is still at the "kinda" hollowed stage. She is showing a few of the other signs: pawing, lying down and standing up again, looking at her sides, breathing more quickly. But she's only showing these signs to a very minor degree.

She is not yet showing the some of the other classic signs: the unhinged tail that sticks up or out instead of hanging down (this happens when the tendons in the pelvis adjust to prepare for birth), the lifting of the head, the curling of the upper lip, the rapid lip-licking. Those signs will all appear when she moves into the first stages of labor.

How long will she keep me hanging here, watching and wondering? Hours, days, who knows?

I'll be checking her frequently throughout the day. Looks like it might be almost time to move my pillow to the barn!

1 comment:

Rhea said...

Wow, tricky signs! I loved hearing about them though, I had no idea how many there were! I'm rooting for Phoebe...I bet she is more ready to give birth than you are for her to! lol