I hit a sad milestone: I lost my first ewe from giving birth. It was poor Ugly Sheep. She was carrying twins, and I saw her water bag break at dusk. I was called away to help a neighbour's ewe (stuck twins / new mom). When I got back and checked Ugly Sheep there was no progress. A shepherd once told me "If you don't see anything after an hour of the bag, best you go in there for a bit of a rummage around."
Glove on, I began a tentative "rummage". I couldn't find anything in the birth canal. Elbow deep (it's a long glove) and I could find a shoulder but no head. Four front feet, one back foot, no head - and there should be two in there. By now Ugly Sheep had been in labour for a few hours. She was tired and gave in to my assistance, which I hoped was less painful than a stuck knot of twins. I tried to work one twin forward, tried to put legs with the right lambs, but I couldn't shift either. Mike tried. I tried again.
By now Ugly Sheep was panting in pain, and shivering. Probably going into shock. The lambs were sluggish when I moved them, no longer pulling their tiny feet away from me. And there was too much blood coming from the ewe. It's now midnight. Everyone in the county is lambing so vets will be busy (the wait can be up to four hours). Vet help was out.
I'm not a vet, and my knowledge is limited. Like so much in life, you have to make a decision based on what you know right now, limited or not. The ewe was bleeding out and the lambs were dying. I asked Mike to go home and get a rifle. He shot the ewe to end her suffering and maybe save her lambs. He checked she was gone, I turned her over and cut around her udder, through her side, and carefully into her now exposed womb.
The first lamb - a big ram - was dead. I pulled the second lamb and saw small signs of life. Another ram lamb. His lungs were filled with amniotic fluid. I cleared his airway with my finger, and swung him to shift the rest. I took my coat off and rubbed him vigorously. Come on..come on...come on...
He survived. I call him Buddy.
One out of three. Not great, but way better than none out of three. I put him in our log basket on an old dog bed in front of the fire to warm up. I peeled off all my blood-soaked clothes. My white bra was completely red. I found some sweats and, loaded up with more towels, cleaned the blood off Buddy.
I slept on the couch that night, next to Buddy and the wood stove. I fed him every hour or so and he got stronger. By morning he was out of the basket and bellowing for milk and attention - so I guess his lungs cleared up alright.
At dawn, the underkeeper knocked on the door to say all my sheep were in the road. Sigh. I needed to move them to a new field anyway, so we sorted that in a few minutes. Minus one ewe. I found her in the corner of the old field, with two healthy lambs, born without help from anyone.
Good old experienced ewe. This is how it should be done -
We had another easy twin birth yesterday, followed by a difficult single just as I was heading to work, (the ewes' usual MO). The mother of the single lamb was a young ewe in great condition with extra milk. Perfect for a foster lamb like, say, Buddy. She took to them both and now Buddy has a mom again. And I can go sleep in my bed. Everyone wins.
I've just checked the remaining 12 ewes left to lamb, and all were laid up and chewing their cud. That's a good sign that no one is in a hurry to lamb this morning.
Running tally so far: 8 surviving ewes, 14 lambs.