Late Night Lambing

To intervene or not to intervene? That’s the question I’m struggling with now, at nearly midnight on a Saturday night. One of our best and most reliable ewes, Nera, has been in labor literally all day…and she hasn’t progressed much at all in several hours. Been checking on her every 15 minutes or so lately, and her contractions/pushing are definitely getting more intense, but there’s still very little “forebirth” portruding from her rear end.

I am loathe to put on a latex glove and reach inside her, for a whole host of reasons. Icelandic sheep usually need no assistance with lambing, which was a big plus when we selected a breed nearly eight years ago. We’ve now had 47 lambings, and over 80 lambs born to us, and we’ve never had to assist a ewe. I realize it happens all the time in James Herriot’s books, and he makes it sound easy/routine, but I have no idea what I’m doing in there. I could easily do more harm than good…cause her birth canal to tear, or yank a lamb in a way that kills or disables it. And yet…if her birth canal is blocked for some reason, I need to clear it.

I did put a gloved finger in a couple of hours ago, and could feel the hardness of a lamb’s hoof. That’s good. They always come out hoof/snout first. But I don’t want to put my whole hand in and start grabbing or pulling. If we were still in Illinois, I’d probably give the vet a call. He lived less than two miles from us, and we had his home number. He’d at least have some advice, and could tell us what to look for that indicated he needed to come. But here, the closest large animal vet is many miles away. We’re pretty much on our own.

This is Nera’s sixth delivery, and she’s always had twins (3 times) or triplets (twice). She’s an experienced pro, yet not ancient. I know I shouldn’t be worried about her. And yet…I am. That’s the thing about being a shepherd: you grow to deeply care about each member of the flock, as an individual. I can scan the flock, and instantly recognize each sheep by name. Nera’s been with us a long time, and we’ve hoped to have her for several more years. Which, I suppose, is why I’m still up and worrying about her at midnight. And kneeling next to her and trying to comfort her as she gathers herself for each new contraction. Because I know that even if I go to bed, I won’t be able to sleep.

Time to shut the computer down and go check on her again. And, I suppose, try to get some rest. But I’ll be going straight to the barn to check on her first thing tomorrow morning.

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