Monday, 16 September 2013

Lambing Live! (and no-so live...)

Lambing has started, and we've had two births now - one easy, and one fodder for a shepherd's nightmares. Of course I'll start by describing the bad one in detail first.

On one of my regular checks, I saw this -

Easy to identify, first stages of labour: the water bag. It was attached to Gregor, an experienced ewe who had triplets last year. It was an hour or so before sunset and a nice evening, so I settled down on an upturned bucket to watch the show. It got dark before the end of the first act. Just water, no lambs.

I walked her to the maternity stable, but had to disturb her to move her. I thought it may set her lambing back a bit, but nothing to worry about. I let her settle in and sat in the truck to close my eyes for a minute. A minute turned into a hour, and when I checked on Gregor, she was still restless but not in labour. Mike came up to the field with dinner and a cup of tea. We sat in the front of the Land Rover eating Chinese takeaway, keeping out of Gregor's way and hoping she would settle.

I made a fatal error in judgement and let her continue unaided. I thought moving to the shed was slowing things down for her. In fact, when I finally went in for a look, the twins were so tangled that neither could enter the birth canal and start the process. That's why the hold up. Traffic jam.

I untangled triplets in her last year, but had to get a local shepherd to lend a hand with this one. It was a Gordian knot, with fleece. A shepherd is more cost effective than a vet. Vets don't come out at midnight on a Saturday night and detangle your lambs for homemade cake and a dozen eggs. This shepherd is a late-season lamber like me, so was on his rounds when I called and was with us in minutes.

Even after the pig's ear I made in that sheep's uterus, the shepherd managed to save one of the two twin rams. The survivor was very weak and couldn't stand or suckle.
12 hours later, and he's still so depleted. He's too tired to respond when his mother calls to him.

I tube fed him, and propped him on a straw pillow. I fed him and adjusted his position every few hours so he wouldn't get stiff. I milked the spare colostrum off the ewe to put in the freezer. And I worried. And I felt guilty. I had just read a chapter in the Malcolm Gladwell book about plane crashes. Apparently, in every plane crash attributed to pilot error, it has been shown that a minimum of seven errors occurs. Small errors in judgement combined with tiredness leads to catastrophe. I worked backwards from dead lamb to water sac, and charted my errors - at 3 am sat in a dark office with a cup of tea, unable to sleep even though I knew I had to be up to the field in two hours for the next check. No more lambs came that day.

No sense making mistakes if you don't learn from them. Mike did the next night checks for me, and I got a full eight hours' sleep. That made the correction for overtired. I read up on options for dealing with delayed births, and reminded myself to trust my gut. I plan to bake two cakes for the shepherd, just in case I need to call on him again after hours.

This morning I was at the field before 5 am and, just the other side of the gate, ewe 2844 was cleaning a pair of bright-eyed lambs. I could see the family in my truck's headlights. No hassles, no interference, no late night phone calls.

Ewe 2844 and babies, safe and dry in the maternity shed

We're lambing at Milkweed for the first time and having two horse stables temporarily converted into a maternity shed (individual pens for bonding) and nursery shed (group room for older mums and babies) is a joy. The weather's just turned - single digit temperatures and squally showers - and I know the babies are safe from draughts, foxes, and downpours. Kitty grazes close to the stables and when the ewes call to their babies, Kitty whickers back in fellowship. She has that matronly protective air of an older mare, and I think she's adopted the flock as her own. After all, she was a mother herself once.

There are still 21 lambs waiting to be born. No doubt I'm due more of those "Here's two I made earlier" scenes at the field gate, and no doubt I'm due more stuck lambs and heartsickening mistakes. The ram lamb has recovered despite his hard start. He's up on his feet and feeding now-

I think in aviation terms this one would be classified as a 'near miss'.


janice bendixen said...

Oh, Jenn. You've been busy. Well, not as busy as your ewes but still... Life as a shepherd is never boring, eh? Great job on keeping your head while life comes and goes.

Pam said...

I think a live ewe and one lamb sounds like a pretty good outcome for that situation-could have been much worse. I remember when I first started with sheep I read so many books where shepherds got up every 2 or 3 hours during the night to check on ewes. When I asked my sheep mentor why she didn't get up for overnight checks, she told me that after 20 years with sheep she had learned that if she didn't get the sleep she needed she ended up making more mistakes overall that cost lives than she would have saved by getting up at night. Get your sleep! Hope you have a great day tomorrow!

Kris said...

Betting that 2 tangled births in a row for Gregor will keep you on pins'n'needles when lambing time for her next year comes around. Yep, it's the learning you have to cling to even when you're grieving. Thankfully ewe and little ram are doing well. Also glad you are too. Fingers crossed the rest of the lambing goes well!

Jeri said...

I just found your blog and have loved reading your writings. I know nothing about lambs so this has been very insightful. Thanks for sharing your journey with the world.

Jennifer Montero said...

Jeri - Glad you've joined us! We welcome and appreciate all comments, and advice (by 'we' I mean 'me'). Flying by the seat of our pants a lot, but come along for the ride.