Trying to dispel the confusion

January after getting help to stand up on Thursday, March 17th

January, after getting help to stand on Thursday, March 17th

On Wednesday I wrote about the confusion surrounding January’s due date and the number of lambs she carries. She has been in the drop pen longer than any of the other ewes, since I allowed her in on March 4 for an expected due date of March 9. Since then, she has done nothing but get bigger and bigger. Every day that I come into the barn, she’s bigger yet — and I’ve snapped some photos, partly in disbelief.  Her lambs are each gaining at a rate of nearly a pound a day. And how many are there? We don’t know. Needless to say, she is very uncomfortable and finds it difficult getting up and down in the straw. There are times when she looks to me and waits until I can help her to her feet. She is huge.

With little idea of exactly when she’s due, there is nothing I can do except wait and wonder. How many lambs? When will they come? If there are more than two, there’s a good chance she will need help to deliver them; triplets or quads often don’t have enough room in the uterus to get into the correct “nose and toes first” position. I know that she might need me to help sort things out — to turn her lambs and make sure they are coming one at a time — so I wait and watch her carefully on our indoor monitor, day and night. I don’t know how long it will be, but I know that when she is ready, I will need to be there to ensure that this story has a happy ending.

January's belly continues to grow at an alarming rate as we wait for her due date to come.

3/17/2016: January’s belly continues to grow at an alarming rate as we wait for her due date to come.

Since it is obvious that January’s marking crayon date of March 9th did not reflect her true breeding date, I decided to compare this year’s scan accuracy with our own marking crayon accuracy for the ewes who had already delivered. I thought it might help me try to predict January’s actual due date. Unfortunately, the exercise yielded nothing useful. Of the ewes who have already delivered, our own records predicted the due date most closely in 76% of the deliveries, and our marking info was tied with the scanning info in another 12%, making our own data collection from crayon markings the best available data in 88% of this year’s deliveries. In only 12% of the ewes did the ultrasound better predict their due dates. Unfortunately, it seems that January will fall into this latter group.

Compare January as she stands next to McKinley at the hay feeder - McKinley carries twins and is due anytime.

Compare January as she stands next to McKinley, on her right, at the hay feeder. McKinley carries twins and is due anytime.

Many people have asked me what we do now. The answer: we wait. Truthfully, the waiting makes me very uncomfortable. I like knowing what to expect. This is why we use a marking crayon during breeding and why we ultrasound in December. Without an accurate due date, my ability to make informed decisions is terribly limited. Earlier this year, I was able to save Ivy’s quads by administering cortisone to help mature their lungs when it was obvious to me that they would come early — but I was able to do that only because I had an accurate due date. For January, I no longer know anything — neither the number of lambs nor when they will come. We are essentially working blind.

You may recall that January tried to sneak into the drop pen well before her due date because she hoped for a cause-and-effect result: once in the drop pen, the lambs would come. Now that she’s been in the drop pen for a while with nothing happening, she has taken it upon herself to push things along. For the past two days, January has been trying to make her way into one of the jugs where we pen up individual ewes with their newborn lambs. Since she hasn’t had success in the drop pen, perhaps she is hoping that a move to the jugs will make her lambs magically appear. Poor girl. I only wish it were so. Stay tuned!

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  • Abbie says:

    Has January ever been this big carrying lambs? She looks so uncomfortable! Come on January, just a few more days (hopefully:)

    • Dee says:

      She always seems pretty big, but I think this year is worse than past years from what I can remember! Let’s hope it isn’t much longer!

  • Erika says:

    Poor January! And you! It’s so nerve wracking waiting for a sheep to go into labor. Our last ewe lambed 10 days after her marking due date with triplets. I don’t know if she was early and bred on her second cycle with the ram but just didn’t mark or just really late. We joked at work about bringing her in for “postdates testing.”
    Could you write a post about your monitoring system? I want to get some type of monitoring system for the barn for next year but would like some feedback from someone using one.

    • Dee says:

      Hi, Erika! It is unlikely that your ewe delivered that late – it is more likely that she was marked again later and either you missed it because it was the same color or the marking crayon was full of gravel or some other such failure. It does happen – obviously! – since January is in the same situation!

      We do have a wonderful camera system that my husband put together for us. I can send you details by private email if you like (just let me know), but I will also plan a blog about what to look for in a camera system for your barn. We expensively chose a lot of “wrong” systems before finally finding one that worked for our sheep and management system. Thanks for the idea!

  • Erika says:

    Thanks Dee! I would love to know what to buy and what not to buy! Private email would be great and I am looking forward to your post.

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