McKinley delivers – continued

This is the second of a two-part blog; the first part was posted yesterday afternoon, Friday, March 24. When we left off, I was struggling to decide whether McKinley, who had scanned with two lambs in December, had finished lambing with her colored daughter Quebec and the small mummified lamb she had delivered – or whether there was still another lamb to come. And, if there was another lamb, could I still get it out alive? I had donned a shoulder-length OB glove and decided to to back into McKinley’s uterus to try to find out where things stood.

The problem was that when one reaches an arm that deeply into a laboring ewe, what one can feel pretty much all feels the same. My hand was in the uterus, which is a big, soft bag that holds the lambs. I was feeling around for another big, soft bag that was the amniotic sac within the uterus that held the lamb. My hand was covered by a glove, so I had an extra layer between my hand and all that I could feel. Somehow with all of this in the way, I had to feel past all of that warm, soft tissue to determine whether there was still a lamb in there – and that wasn’t easy! It’s basically all about feeling for bones – bones that don’t belong to the ewe.

As I felt around, I really couldn’t find much of anything – yet I wasn’t sure that there wasn’t another lamb. As I was about to give up, I thought I felt a soft pillow directly under my hand, and within that soft pillow, I occasionally thought I felt something hard. I slowly patted the pillow again and again, on about the third pat, I again felt something hard – like a lamb’s skull! There was another lamb in there!

Now, the issue was what to do about it? Since the lamb was still in its sac, could I assume that all would progress normally, and that it would be delivered alive? Or was the fact that there was afterbirth with the mummified lamb an indicator that the lamb within no longer had a good supply of nutrients via the placenta and was in danger already? I had no idea and was in a panic – what to do? I didn’t want to do the wrong thing.

I quickly called a friend who happens to be a vet, and ran through the situation; at the end, I asked the big question, “To pull or not to pull? Which was the safer option?” After a few short minutes of discussion, he recommended pulling the lamb – its time of safety was over. Because the first lamb had been fairly yellow, and so much more time had now passed since its birth, it was unlikely that the remaining lamb could last in there for much longer. He voted PULL, and so without hesitation, I did!

Once more, I gloved up and went in – McKinley knowing she needed help and standing well for me. When I got back to the pillow of water, I tried to break it, but breaking an amniotic sac inside a ewe is not easy: they are tough and my hand was gloved, so I had nothing sharp to work with. It took me a couple of minutes to break the bag, and then suddenly, the water poured out onto the straw – and it was a dark brown color, a bad sign for the lamb within. My friend had been right – this lamb was terribly stressed. I only hoped that it was still alive.

Colored Romney McKinley with daughters Quebec (colored, 11.0 lbs) and Quito (white, 11.4 lbs), just after Quito’s birth

I grabbed carefully, so as not to damage the uterus – but I knew the lamb’s time was running out. As I felt around to find the front legs, I accidentally scooped one finger into the lamb’s mouth, and it began to suck – it was still alive! Now, I was even more desperate to get this lamb out alive! I finally found the two front hooves and began to gently but firmly pull them into the birth canal, careful to make sure that the head was there, not far behind. The lamb came quickly once I had everything lined up, and although she is a white lamb, she was a very dark brown upon arrival – obviously very stressed. In fact, she was so stressed that she didn’t really want to breathe for me – but I was not willing to give up so easily! After a few minutes of rubbing and a few puffs of air into her snout, she took that first shuddering breath on her own – and I knew she would be fine!

Thankfully, all three – McKinley, Quebec, and white sister Quito – are doing well! McKinley is thrilled to be mothering two lambs, and the lambs are already bouncing in their jug (pen). Both lambs are nursing well and if things continue to look this good, all three will be out of their jug and into the mixing pen with the other ewes and lambs by Sunday. This was one of those good lambing stories: two live lambs, a healthy dam, and Death locked out of our barn for yet another delivery! When they end like this, I am more than happy to get up at 5:00 a.m. – in the end, it was all worth it!

Oh, and you can be sure that from now on, I won’t assume that afterbirth coming with a mummified lamb denotes the end of labor – I just might lose a lamb, if I do! From now on, a mummified lamb coming with afterbirth will mean that further exploration is needed – just in case!

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  • Erika says:

    Congratulations! What a great learning experience for all of us. Do you have a specific management for ewes in whom you have had to do extensive uterine exploration? Prophylactic antibiotics? uterine bolus? oxytocin? pain reliever?

    • Dee says:

      Hi, Erika! Exactly how best to deal with this type of situation is best left in the hands of a veterinarian (I don’t want to step on any toes here!), so I would check with yours. I find that most of my girls do very well with a short coarse of antibiotics to make sure that we avoid infection, but I do take this somewhat on a case-by-case basis.

  • Elaine Chicago says:

    Wow!! What a story. Does this indicate that McKinley may have the same problems in the future? So happy you’re there to help them all out!

    • Dee says:

      No, this type of issue typically doesn’t repeat in the same ewe (it can, but it isn’t common). The odds are that McKinley will continue to produce lambs every year – and since she gave us triplets last year and then bred with three again this year, it is likely that this girl will produce triplets for us for the next four or five years, if not longer!

  • Janice says:

    My brother who is a veterinarian calls your mummified lamb a “ghostly.” He told me this one year when one of my cats birthed one. That’s the only ghost cat I’ve had, but he says pigs often give birth to “ghosts.” Of course, they often have several more in a litter than 3-4. I’m also glad to know that McKinley is doing well!

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