Our first lamb was born February 4th, 2015, and it was high drama. When we arrived back at the house around 3:30, Sasha’s water had broken, and she was in active labor. We kept a respectful distance and marveled at the miracle of birth. As I looked down at Sasha, I sent a little plea to the heavens, “please let this go smoothly”. Stupid stupid stupid, and Murphy must have let out a huge guffaw.
An hour and a half after we noticed the broken water, tiny feet appeared. We were feeling fairly anxious because delivery seemed to be taking longer than we expected. But, the lamb’s presentation was correct, and we wanted to let nature do its thing. Again, stupid, stupid, stupid.
By the third hour we were freaking out, and our girl Sasha was clearly in distress. She would pace around, and lay down only when a huge contraction overtook her. We put a call into the vet, and waited for her to call us back. By this time it was dark, and we were at the mercy of our vet’s on call system. I donned my labor and delivery sleeve, lubed up, and tried to figure out how to help. I can tell you my heart was in my throat, and I felt severely under qualified. I tried to work the lamb out, and pulled gently but firmly in a downward direction. As I pulled on both of his two tiny legs, I could see signs of movement coming from the baby. Unfortunately, the lamb didn’t budge a bit.
We worried we might be rushing Sasha by meddling, and backed away to await the vets call. Finally, (it only took 20 minutes, but felt like an hour) we got the call from the vet. I explained the situation and the timeline to her. I let her know we tried to help pull the baby, but it seemed to panic Sasha more than help, and I didn’t want to hurt our poor girl. I am not sure what I expected our vet to say, but her comments came like a gut punch. She said patiently, but directly that at this point in the delivery it didn’t matter how we got the lamb out, but it needed to happen immediately. She prepared me that most likely the lamb was already gone, and it could be too late for Sasha as well. She offered to come over, but let me know it would be costly, and the prognosis looked grim regardless. I wanted to scream at myself for letting it get to this point. She offered to talk me through another try at lamb pulling. I took her up on it.
Merrill got in front of the panicked ewe, and braced himself. I took a firm hold of the lamb’s legs. I had been so worried about hurting the poor little baby on the first try. Now, I realized I needed to take action no matter what, or I would lose them both. At the onset of the contraction, I began to pull on the tiny little feet. Sasha nearly lunged through Merrill. She was trying to unsuccessfully deliver a baby, and escape from us at the same time. Still the baby didn’t budge. I felt defeated and hopeless. As another contraction started I steeled myself, and began to pull. My whole body was involved in pulling, then suddenly I felt a giant give. The lamb’s shoulder cleared the pelvic bone, and it slide into my arms in one smooth motion. With a gush of enthusiasm I shouted into the phone, “the lamb is out, and alive”! I cleared the baby’s nose and mouth, and slide it up to it’s mother so she could start the bonding process. I looked up at Merrill, and said with a smile, “its a boy”. The vet walked me through cutting the cord, checking Sasha for hemorrhage, and a series of questions to ensure the health of mom and baby.
- Have a relationship with a good vet – we did, and it saved our ewe. Make sure you can get ahold of someone in a pinch.
- Lambing should take an hour or less. I am not a vet, but that is what my vet said.
- Have all the lambing accoutrement ready to go. Hopefully, you won’t need it. At some point, you probably will. For our lambing list click here.
- Ewes in distress may get up and down a lot. We mistakenly thought this meant she had lots of energy, and was still in good shape.
- Don’t be timid when assisting. There is no need to be the hulk either, but you do need to get your hands dirty.
- Be as clean as you can – this is easier said than done, but very important.
- Do not over feed a Ewe in late gestation – our boy was 14 lbs at one day. For perspective, our other lambs, of the same breed, were 14 lbs at two weeks.
- Have medications on hand like penicillin. It was helpful to treat Sasha after being all up in her business.
- Try to limit access to dirt. Sasha had a fresh straw lambing area, but she kept moving back to a soft area in the dirt paddock. This made for extra mess while I was trying to keep her clean and sanitary.
- Make sure the ewe is clean and trimmed. Lambing is messy business, and trimming helps with sanitation and visibility.
- Study possible lamb delivery presentations. It is tight in there, and it helps if you have an idea of what you are feeling for.
I realize some of our observations seem obvious. But, when you are right in the middle of a delivery gone wrong, the lines between normal and emergency can seem blurry.