it’s bound to happen: birthing difficulties on a farm. i try to tell myself that with the few “pet” sheep we have, the probability of lambing difficulties is lower than on big, commercial farms. but nature takes over, and sometimes there are difficult births.
it is no secret that violet is my favorite ewe. if adam was a girl, his name was going to be violet. obviously, he was a boy, so our first two sheep that we “adopted” were named Daisy and Violet (also because of Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twins that one of our favorite musicals, Side Show, is based on). violet’s breed, Romney, is bred for long, thick wool. she is mammoth when covered in wool, and looks like a bear. (you can see her with our other wool sheep (border leicester) in this post, where i show off a scarf i made with their wool.)
her labor began around 8:30 yesterday morning. rowan noticed first as he checked the barn because she wasn’t out grazing with the rest of the sheep. violet was set on giving birth in the donkey pen, so i spent most of the first hour of her labor (making sure it was progressing) attaching chicken wire to the walls on the donkey pen so that the new lamb(s) couldn’t escape. i also had to build a makeshift door so that the nosy donkey and other sheep would leave violet alone while she labored.
it was around 2:30 when i realized we had to intervene. normally you have about an hour or maybe two hours from the delivery of the water sac until the birth of the lamb, but she had never delivered a water sac, and we were seeing a hoof and a nose during her contractions.
and then, she stopped contracting altogether.
so i got in the pen with her and grabbed as much of the hoof as i could and started pulling (down), which i hoped would encourage her to push again. it did, but this lamb was stuck. a hoof/leg was stuck in the birthing canal.
i then noticed that the lamb’s tongue was hanging out of the side of her mouth. my stomach lurched. i knew for sure i was helping her deliver a dead baby. but it needed to come out or else we’d have a dead mama as well. i was able to get the jaw and the hoof to come out farther and she kept pushing. all of a sudden i noticed that the lamb was trying to breathe and moving it’s tongue! (i later learned that the tongue was swollen from being trapped in the birth canal too long.) i worked hard to find the other hoof and miraculously it appeared the more the head slid out. i pulled both the legs and the lamb fell out limply onto the straw.
mama violet began her cleaning of the lamb immediately, but i could tell this lamb was not healthy. it didn’t move, it didn’t try to breath anymore, and its tongue was still hanging out of the side of its mouth. it was alive, but i was certain it wouldn’t stay alive very long.
i tried to get some collostrum out of mama to put on the lamb’s mouth and it was at this point i noticed a sac of red on the floor behind mama. it was another lamb, delivered completely in the sac! i broke the sac and picked up the new (very healthy) lamb and gave it to mama to clean. this lamb was half the size of the first, but already bleating and feisty as ever. it was up and walking within minutes, nursing within the hour.
during the intense moments, i was on the phone with two farm vets (who were unable to come out to help) and with kenny, who was in a meeting at work down in pittsburgh. kenny called two farmer friends, and one of them sent his brother over to help us out. he arrived just after the second lamb was delivered. he tried to get the first lamb to breathe, clearing out it’s mouth, and tapping on its lungs. he said it’s just a wait and see: the lamb could pass away within the hour, or all of a sudden perk up.
the boys were in the barn at this point (since the labor was over 7 hours, they got bored after the first two, so they hung out in the house for a lot of it). i had to warn them that one of the lambs might not be doing well, and that made sawyer begin his prayerful vigil. within 15 minutes of the farmer leaving, the first lamb lifted its head and bleated. it then tried to stand or move, but didn’t. it was breathing normally, eyes were open and it was yelling for its mama! i couldn’t believe what we were witnessing!
kenny arrived home just in time to leave again to get a bottle and some formula since the lamb couldn’t stand to nurse. we weren’t sure if the legs were broken, or the circulation was cut off to them, but it could not stand at all. it was also shivering something fierce. so we wrapped it in a towel and brought it to the house and put it under a heat lamp to get its body temperature up. it wouldn’t suck, and still it couldn’t stand.
i had to leave for an acting class that i teach, and during that hour and a half, kenny got about an ounce of mama’s milk (not formula) down the lamb’s throat. it still wouldn’t nurse or suck on its own. but that ounce gave the lamb enough strength to attempt standing on its front legs. we knew then they weren’t broken!
i returned home just as kenny left for dress rehearsal of the show he’s working on now. my mom was lamb-sitting on the back porch when i arrived home. we decided it was probably best to try to get the lamb back to its mama now that it wasn’t shivering and was attempting to stand. sure enough, as soon as we got the lamb into the pen with its mama, she was on that lamb so fast, licking it and encouraging it to nurse. it still couldn’t suck on its own, so i was getting milk from mama and pouring it down the lamb’s throat. after i would do that, it would try to get up again, and within 15 minutes it was standing in the pen, and attempting to walk.
mama wasn’t rejecting her. that was so encouraging! a friend of mine, a farmer’s wife, said: “it’s so hard being a farm mama! one thing i’ve learned is that if the mama rejects her baby, there is less of a chance of survival. if she doesn’t reject her baby, then there’s a good chance it will survive!”
dad was helping me in the barn at this point, and he and i decided it was best that the lamb stay in the pen with her twin and mama for the night. our original plan was to try to feed it under the heat lamp in our back porch for the first night. but just watching it gain strength from being with its mama and twin, we knew it was the right choice.
i was relieved this morning to hear when kenny checked on them at dawn, the lambs were snuggled up together, and then both got up and walked, and nursed.
i am still cautious, but amazed that this lamb has gotten this far! i thought that it was dead – twice! once while it was being born, and then that it wouldn’t survive after being born. and now, it’s nearly as strong as the second lamb!
we’re pretty certain that they are both female. it’s hard to tell with the smaller one. we’re still deciding on names, but i think we’re set on Marigold (for our miracle!) and Holly (Mari and Holly).