Lambing is a challenging time for any shepherd, no matter how many years of experience. Not only is the shepherdess sleep-deprived due to middle-of-the-night barn checks (even if they are done via a camera system), but it is a higher-risk period for both the ewes and their unborn or newly born lambs. Decisions must often be made with little or no time to think, and the results can be long-lasting, sometimes literally life or death.
Such was the scene that unfolded in our barn early yesterday morning. I had been checking the camera system every hour or two all night long. I knew that all but one of the ewes in our drop pen were ready to go into labor at any time. I particularly had my eye on Millie and Lolita, who both looked ready to pop.
Although I had checked on the group at 3:30 a.m., all had been quiet and with no hint as to the chaos to come. I checked again at about 5:00 a.m., and as my sleepy eyes slowly focused on the camera monitor in our bedroom, I suddenly saw a very recently born lamb, now struggling to stand in spite of Lolita’s best efforts to clean its belly. I had to go!
I quickly grabbed my “go-kit” (my glasses, my phone, and the hands-free earpiece in case I need to call the vet and continue to work with both hands), pulled on some sweats, and ran to “suit up” in my barn gear. Within moments, I was out the door into the chilly, misty early-morning air, still pulling on gloves, hat, and headlamp as I ran.
As I approached the barn, I knew that I would have to slowly and carefully make my way through the general population (ewes still waiting to deliver their lambs) before I could get to the drop pen where Lolita was bonding with her new lamb. Upon opening the barn door, I heard the soft sounds of ewes murmuring to their newborn lambs. Ossidy and Lolita, I thought — but I was wrong.
As I entered the barn, I realized that things were not as simple as I’d thought. It wasn’t only Lolita who had delivered in the previous hour or so. There, in among the general population, stumbled two small newborn lambs: one being mothered by Gabby near the door to the outside, and the other being cleaned off and bonding to Kaylen on the other side of the enclosure. Suddenly I had two little lambs far from where they should have been born (the drop pen), and about a dozen ewes claiming to be the mother of one or the other or both!
My first task was to figure out the actual mother of these two surprise lambs, and the only way to do that was by randomly doing “bag checks” of all of the candidates. The process is fairly simple: since most ewes who deliver lambs will leave a narrow trail of fluids and blood down from the birth canal and over the back of their bags, I began to check all of ewes in the vicinity. Kaylen had obviously delivered a lamb recently — but Gabby had not. One after another, I continued to look. In the end, the only new mother I could find in that area was Kaylen, who had scanned with twins. In the end, I felt confident: both of the lambs in the general population pen obviously belonged to Kaylen.
The problem now was that Gabby was insisting that the firstborn lamb was hers. This was compounded by the fact that Kaylen had lost interest in that lamb as she delivered her second, and she’d essentially conceded motherhood to Gabby. And Gabby, ever the loving and attentive mother, couldn’t stand to see this newborn lamb wandering lost among the ewes. She claimed her as her own — and was absolutely not willing to relinquish her simply because I insisted that the lamb belonged to Kaylen!
I picked up both lambs, struggled to push Gabby back, and encouraged Kaylen to follow me into the drop pen. After many frustrating attempts, Kaylen finally followed, and I got all three family members into the drop pen. Our next move — into the lambing jug — was accompanied by Gabby continuing to call for “her” lamb. You would think that getting the new little family into the lambing jug would mark the successful end of this. But unfortunately, that’s when the real problems began.
Because Kaylen’s first lamb (now named Paiden) had been separated from her mother during those critical first bonding moments, Kaylen no longer recognized Paiden as her own. Kaylen was happy to feed and mother her other lamb, Pierson, but refused to allow Paiden close, head-butting her away again and again. There is nothing so heartbreaking as watching a hungry innocent newborn lamb being rejected by her mother. I understood why it was happening, but that didn’t make it any easier to watch or accept,
I initially held Kaylen in place to allow both lambs to nurse. She was happy to nurse her younger lamb, Pierson, but feeding Paiden was an entirely different story. Yet, I knew that Kaylen would eventually accept both if I could make sure they both got her milk for the next few days. Once Kaylen’s milk made the entire trek through the lambs’ digestive systems, they would smell more alike than different, and she would be more likely to accept them both. But until then, Paiden’s life depended on me. I had to make sure that she would be fed and safe — and with Kaylen’s attitude, that wouldn’t be easy!
Over the next twenty-four hours, I was able to convince Kaylen that she had, indeed, delivered twins rather than a single lamb. Last night was the test of our success: Paiden would not have survived the night without nursing — and she is doing well this morning! Thankfully, I think this crisis is over. Congratulations Kaylen, and welcome to Paiden and Pierson!
Note: Be sure to check Our New Lambs! in the left-column menu. There you’ll find photos of all our new additions.