Our regular readers may remember that during last spring’s lambing, our biggest Romeldale/CVM ewe, Gabby, delivered a good-sized set of twins, Oleander and Olive. They came into the world in the wee hours of that cold dark morning, and I found myself having to make a difficult decision. Gabby could not feed her twins, and rather than put them both on a bottle, I stole her son, Oleander, and gave him to our Romney ewe Fern. Fern had plenty of milk and was just in the process of delivering a single ewe lamb. Oleander grew up as a member of our flock until he was sold to a neighboring farm for breeding, but Olive became a bottle lamb, living between our two worlds: the world of the flock, and the world of the humans who run the farm.
Gabby did what she could to teach Olive the ways of sheep, but bottle lambs know they’re different. Unlike the other sheep, they have two mothers: the four-legged one they live with and the two-legged shepherdess that nourishes them. No matter how old they become or how big they grow, their allegiance is still torn — part sheep and part person, all in one very ovine body.
When Olive went into labor in the middle of the day on Sunday, I’ll admit that I was a bit worried. When we came to the barn to feed, Olive was already wandering around the drop pen, leaking amniotic fluid. I assessed the situation and decided we had some time before she would deliver. As she walked about, Olive was licking up any bits of fluid that she found and calling for her unborn lamb. I knew, based on experience, that Olive’s lamb would likely be good-sized and that this might take a while.
Rick and I decided to go ahead and feed the rest of the flock. The only other ewe in the drop pen with Olive was her mother Gabby, so there was little risk that Olive would be handled roughly by a flockmate or that her lamb would be stolen. We kept our eyes on her as we fed, and Olive labored on. Occasionally she stopped to sniff at or lean against Gabby, but Gabby was preoccupied with her own matters (she will deliver huge triplets in a few days). Gabby had nothing to offer and generally turned and walked away.
It takes much longer for such a young ewe to deliver a lamb. Olive has not yet reached her first birthday (which will come on March 4), and I wanted to make sure I did all I could to ensure a live lamb at the end of her labor. I needed to keep an eye on the amniotic fluid to reassure myself that the lamb was not too stressed. After feeding, I sat down on a bucket to watch Olive labor, and that’s when she noticed me.
Olive came up to me, still calling for her lamb. I rubbed her neck and told her to keep going; the lamb would come eventually. She settled a bit, recognizing the same voice I had used when I fed her as a lamb. She began to lick at me — my hands, my face, and my clothing — displaying a bond of trust between us. The birth was coming closer, but I knew we still had a ways to go.
After another hour, things became more intense. Olive was getting up and down, yet never really settling to push the lamb out. As I watched her get up yet again, I noticed that the birthing fluids had become yellowed — a bad sign. I knew the lamb was now becoming stressed. My guess was that this was a big lamb for such a young ewe, and I had a dilemma. I don’t usually help if the lamb is coming “nose and toes first” — as this one was — but with the fluid turning dark, I knew the lamb had limited time. The next time Olive lay down, I moved to check on where the lamb was positioned in the birth canal.
The lamb was right there. With every strain, I could see a big hoof poke out and then tuck away as Olive rested. Although I don’t like to intercede, I also knew that Olive was already bonded to this lamb — she had been calling to her for hours. Since my intervention would not cause Olive to refuse to mother her lamb, I decided to help. I got a tight hold on the front hooves of the lamb, and I began to pull slowly as Olive pushed with every contraction.
It took quite a while. Not only did I pull, but in between I stretched the birth canal. This lamb was not going to come out if Olive didn’t stretch a bit more — the eyebrows were caught on a band of tissue in the birth canal that had to loosen for the lamb to come. I pulled and I massaged — and Olive let me, pushing for all she was worth. Finally, after who knows how long, Olive delivered a twelve-pound patterned ewe lamb we quickly named Pickles.
As expected, Olive would not let her new daughter out of her sight! In fact, this became an issue when Pickles needed to nurse. Olive kept turning and turning, wanting to keep Pickles there, front and center! I gave them time; I knew how hard Olive had labored for this lamb. Eventually I moved them to a lambing jug, where they could be left to get to know each other. Olive finally allowed Pickles to move back ever so slightly, but fortunately far enough to grab a teat! With Pickles fed, the risks had passed. Olive had successfully delivered a new little lamb! Congratulations Olive; and welcome to our flock, Pickles!