Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Saturday Night Sheep


We didn't breed any of our own sheep-team ewes this year but we are enjoying the lambs belonging to our friend that we share a field with. Last Saturday afternoon we worked our dogs at her place and before we left to go home, we helped with chores, getting sheep into their "night places" and setting out hay for the various groups. There is an "older lamb" group, a "big woolie" working group, a pregnant group, and a just-lambed group. The group of pregnant, very expectant ewes came running into the barnyard from the pasture at the prospect of alfalfa, but one ewe remained, baa-ing and running frantically looking for a lamb that she just gave birth to. We walked out to the pasture to try to find the lamb, and there was none. The ewe had dug a couple of holes but there was no lamb. We'd all been sitting around chatting nearby, inbetween working dogs in the adjacent field, so we were sure that no big bird had swooped in and taken the newborn. So, we decided that she hadn't given birth yet, but thought she had...and if we left her alone that nature might take over and she would settle back down to finish her labor and delivery. We told our friend good bye and she assured us that she would watch the laboring ewe the rest of the afternoon.

I had been home a couple of hours, and it was dark out, when the phone rang. It was our friend. She needed help pulling the lamb from that frantic ewe, who had still not completed her labor and delivery process. I threw on a jacket and headed out into the cold and drove the ten minutes or so over there in the dark of a late-November Saturday evening. By now the ewe had been moved into a small pen. There isn't much light out there but our friend had a headlamp to see by. She gave me a halter and lead rope to put on the ewe, which I did and I held the ewe as best I could up against the wall of the pen while our friend pulled on the tiny back foot that protruded from the ewe. By now we expected a dead lamb and were only trying to save the nice big woolie ewe.

Our friend pulled and pulled. I held onto the ewe. It was a tough process. Finally some traction was gained and the lamb started to come out. I couldn't believe my ears when I heard, "I think it's alive". Pretty soon the lamb was extracted and yes, in fact it was alive, even after several hours waiting in breach presentation. I turned the ewe loose and she immediately began to lick and stimulate the lamb. He opened his mouth and "baa-ed". He was most definitely alive and kicking. Our friend and I were absolutely astounded by this amazing miracle. We wondered if the lamb would eventually even be able to stand and walk after all the pressure applied to his legs pulling him out. Meanwhile we got shavings to bed the pen for the pair and some alfalfa for mama to munch on, and a bucket of water for her to drink. When we got back with all those supplies for the ewe, we were shocked to see the little guy already attempting to stand, like a normal lamb. He was weak, but he kept trying and looked like he would be successful. The ewe continued to fuss over him and care for her lamb who had finally arrived!

When I talked with our friend the next day, she said that both mama and baby were doing fine and were indistinguishable from the other ewe and lamb pairs who hadn't been through such trauma. The tenacity and strong will of sheep is sometimes amazing.

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