Gabby’s surprise

Gabby, our nearly eleven-year-old Romeldale/CVM ewe, is our oldest sheep. In her younger years, she produced multiple award-winning fleeces and numerous breeding-quality lambs, including four sets of triplets. I kept few of her offspring, since we often sell our very best lambs to customers who are just starting their flocks. We treat our customers the way we’d want to be treated, so we offer them the very best of our lambs — and Gabby’s are usually snapped up quickly. She has a great balance of large body size, great structure, and lovely, heavy fleece. Of her many offspring, we have only Olive in our flock — but I’ve always wanted to add more.

Gabby post-shearing in 2016 — just before she delivered her preemies

Unfortunately, I learned a difficult lesson from Gabby in 2016: don’t wait until the last minute to add offspring of great ewes to your flock, because that ‘last minute’ can be hard to recognize. By the time I recognized that we might not get any more lambs from my dear friend, it seemed to be too late — she had delivered what might be her last offspring. Although she gave us lovely twins in 2015 (Olive and her brother, Oleander), I was again hoping to keep a daughter in 2016. When those lambs came — triplets, no less — they were too early and had poor lung development. The ewe lamb that we named Peaches struggled for hours to live, but she died in spite of all of our attempts to save her. Her two siblings were stillborn. I was crushed, but still in the back of my mind, I hoped for a better outcome the next year.

Breeding that fall was typical, with Gabby again well-marked for lambs in early March. I crossed my fingers that at least one of her lambs would be a ewe that I could keep for my flock. As ultrasounding approached in December, I continued to wonder: would she carry twins as she had in 2015, or would she revert to her more common triplets? I would be happy with either, but I knew that triplets would give me a better chance at keeping one or more ewe lambs. As with all of the bred ewes in our flock, I kept an eye on her for illness or injury, and things looked good — for a while.

A few days before scanning last December, while I was feeding the flock, I noticed a very small amount of blood under Gabby’s tail. I’d never seen this before, but I was fairly sure I knew what this meant — and when the ultrasound technician came, she confirmed my fears: Gabby had miscarried and was open. As a result, there were no lambs for her to nurse this past spring, and she was crushed. I seriously suspected that Gabby’s lambing days were over for good.

In September, I once again put Gabby into a very carefully chosen breeding group. I asked myself, “If I had only one chance to get another Gabby ewe lamb, which sire would I want that lamb from?” and chose accordingly. I didn’t have much hope that I would actually get those lambs, but as long as there is life, there is hope — however small. When Gabby was marked by Parker to deliver in early March, I tried to control my excitement; I knew we had been here before and had no lambs to show for it. I honestly began hoping for twins; I figured that with only two, there was a better chance that she could carry them to term and maybe once again have lambs she could call her own. Even a singleton would be good — ram or ewe, I’d be happy!

I watched her carefully in the weeks running up to our ultrasounding on December 3, especially looking for a miscarriage, should it occur. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do anything about it, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up if there were obvious signs that there would be no lambs. I put her in the high-nutrition group before scanning for several reasons. First, she had a history of carrying triplets, so she could very well end up there anyway. Second, she was both old and a bit thin, so the extra nutrition would do her no harm. Third, a high level of nutrition in early gestation can help with optimal placental development — and I wanted to give these lambs every chance at success. There were no signs that anything went wrong in those weeks before scanning, but I didn’t rule out the fact that I might have missed them. When my friend Emilly texted me a picture of my scan results that Sunday a couple of weeks ago, the first thing I did was drop my eyes down to Gabby’s name. She was bred! With twins! Yahoo!

So now we endure the long wait. Based on the ram’s marking, Gabby’s due date is March 11. I intend to do everything within my power to ensure that she carries her lambs to full-term and delivers them healthy and well. I’ve already made a call to our vet to discuss options for when the time comes. I want to be prepared, just in case. In the meantime, I’m cautiously optimistic. Gabby is happy and carrying twins, and this is a very good thing!

 

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