I knew when I posted on Friday that it wouldn’t be long. There’s a look that ewes get when they are close to delivering — it might yet be a day or two, but if you watch them closely, you can tell. Both O’Chloe and January had “the look” and I hoped that I would be there for each of them when their time came. In each case, there was good reason to believe that they might need help: O’Chloe because she was still so young and January because of the multiples that awaited birth.
O’Chloe delivered her single ram lamb on Saturday morning. At the 6:00 a.m. check, she was in active labor, so I asked Rick to keep an eye on her as he went about his morning chores. I was still sick enough that I wanted another couple hours of sleep if I could get it. My instructions were very specific: call me if you see a fluid bubble (surrounded by amniotic membrane), free-flowing fluid, or a lamb. Otherwise, I figured I would continue to rest and fight the flu.
At 8:30, Rick came upstairs to get me: fluid and maybe a nose! I quickly suited up and ran out to the barn. Rick was right; there was definitely a nose peeking out with every push. I could see from the size of the nose that this was no little lamb; it was big! In this type of situation — a small ewe and a big lamb — the lamb will often decide that it’s too crowded in the birth canal in the normal presentation and one or both of the front legs will be folded back. This change in presentation sets the lamb up for failure: a big lamb cannot come with both legs back. It might get its head out, but it will get caught at the shoulders. The only remedy at that point is to push it back into the uterus so the shepherd can hook the front legs forward. Since the cord breaks as the head emerges, pushing the lamb back in can be a dangerous situation. I prefer to correct the issue before the lamb gets its head out! I gloved up and went to find out where those pesky front legs might be.
Sure enough, I found both legs tucked back, and after waiting for a pause in her pushing, I quickly pushed the lamb back in. Working in a small ewe can really present some issues. Not only is there no room to work, but you can’t usually pull the legs into the birth canal either. The legs plus the size of my fist could not both pass through, so I put the lamb in position and hoped it would deliver that way. When it didn’t, I pushed it back and tried again. In this case, it took only two tries before the lamb got the idea. O’Chloe, on the other hand, was not at all happy at having to push that lamb out again from the starting gate. After my “assistance,” she kept her distance!
In moments, O’Chloe had given birth to “Patch” (Patchouli), a black ram lamb weighing 13.2 pounds. It was obvious fairly quickly that she would have no issue with mothering. She cleaned him up, nudged him to his feet, and got him nursing within minutes. We put them into a jug to get acquainted and began the wait for January.
That afternoon’s feeding time proved my instinct correct: January refused to finish her grain — a possible sign of labor, particularly in ewes like January who love their grain! As the afternoon turned to evening, more signs of labor appeared: digging a nest, licking at the air, and yawning. At about 9:00 p.m., we saw fluid beginning to flow. An amniotic sac had ruptured. I sat down in the straw to monitor January’s progress. If the fluid is clear, everything is fine; but if it becomes darker, the lamb is becoming stressed and might need help. Everything seemed fine until about 9:30, when the fluid began to turn yellowish. I debated: help now or wait? I didn’t want to help too soon, or wait too long. Knowing when to intercede is instinctual — with experience, you just know it’s time.
When the fluid darkened further, I gloved up to see what was what. The lamb in the birth canal had one leg back — a possible presentation for delivery, but not ideal. I pushed the lamb back in and then pulled both front legs forward. The contrast between the tight space of the morning flashed through my head. In comparison, working inside January was like having all the space in the world!
Although I had seen dark fluid, when the ram lamb arrived — Putty, weighing nearly 14 pounds — he was pristine white. Perhaps I had intervened too soon. But when moments later a very darkly stained ewe lamb flopped out of the birth canal, I understood. This ewe lamb was the one who had started labor, who had needed to get out. As she made her way to the ‘exit,’ Putty had cut in line, making her wait and increasing her stress. I rubbed and rubbed to get her breathing. It was a close call, but she eventually took a shallow breath, and then more. We named this lamb Peony and waited for the third.
The last lamb took a while to decide to come. After seeing the fluid again begin to darken, I intervened. As I reached into January, she stood patiently, knowing I was trying to help. My hand encountered back legs — another position that requires assistance. Instead of trying to turn the entire lamb, in this case it is easier to deliver the lamb back-legs-first. The risk is that if done too slowly, you can drown the lamb, since the cord breaks while the lamb’s head is still within the ewe. As you pull, there is always a sensation of “catching” when the lamb’s ribs catch on the ewe’s pelvis. The trick is to keep pulling. With many years of experience in this maneuver, I grabbed the back legs and told myself that I wouldn’t stop pulling until the lamb lay in the straw. In moments, January’s second ewe lamb, Sweet Pea, was born. Both girls weighed about 10 pounds each, perfect for ewe lambs! January had been carrying about 35 pounds of triplets, plus the weight of the amniotic fluid — a feat any ewe could be proud of!
We are now done lambing for the year. We turned off the monitor in the bedroom and are finally beginning to return to “normal,” whatever that might look like! On Wednesday, I’ll give you a rundown of what this year’s lambing looked like, with total number of lambs and other details.