We Lost Her

After staying up until midnight last night trying to comfort Nera in her long labor, I finally decided to get some sleep. I guess I just got to the point where I had to admit there was nothing I could do except pray and hope nature resolved whatever issues were going on inside her body. She’d had five successful lambings, two of which were triplets, and the other three of which were twins — so I knew her body was capable.

Before calling it a night, I did don a latex glove and feel inside her birth canal. The lamb was very clearly in “launch position,” with the head and hoof exactly where it was supposed to be. I could put my hand all the way around the lamb’s head. I just couldn’t get the lamb to budge. I suspected, from her size and shape, that she had triplets in there. The other two must’ve been somehow pinning the one that was set to launch. She kept standing up and laying down and changing positions, so I hoped that would get the lambs to move around.

It didn’t. I woke up at 5:30, with first light and birds chirping, and wanted to go back to sleep. But all I could think about was Nera. By 6am, I was dressed and in the barn…and examining her dead body.

I suppose it was inevitable that this happen at some point. Icelandics are very easy lambers, and almost never need assistance; it’s a trade-off for their smaller size. But “almost never” is different from “never.” To put this loss in perspective: This is our eighth year of lambing. We’ve had over 80 lambs born. This was our 48th delivery. And the first time we’ve had to even think about getting help for an ewe. This is also the first time we’ve lost a mature ewe to any cause.

Still…I’m just sick about losing Nera. She was one of our best ewes and mothers, always had plenty of milk, and provided wonderful black fleeces. And she was one our earliest sheep, born to Dot (the leader sheep and queen of the flock) in our second year of lambing.

A more practical problem is what to do with her body. She was big, and even bigger with three lambs inside her. Back in Illinois, we had a friend who let us dump large animal bodies in a huge vacant field he owned. We have 15 acres here, but the trick is getting the body far enough away from everything else — and the hay in the hayfield we have to cross is something like 3 feet high. But with a heat wave forecast to be moving in later today, we need to get the body away from the barn fast.

I’ll leave you with this photo, of her 2007 lambing (the last in Illinois):

She was a real blessing. And will be truly missed. We are grateful for all the years we were allowed to have her.

7 thoughts on “We Lost Her

  1. Appreciate the condolences. We did get her moved early, via wheelbarrow, way out to the other side of the goat pasture. Exchanged some emails with our sheep breeder, and got some excellent suggestions for next time we have a difficult delivery. I hope to put up a whole “lessons learned” blog post soon. Because this was extremely valuable.

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  2. Between leaving the hen and chicks out at night to fend for themselves and not calling in a vet when this ewe was clearly in a lot of discomfort/distress (how could you go to sleep and leave her to fate?)….I don't know if I can take much more. I am very sorry for your loss(es) and hope things improve for you and your animals. I would have shelled out the big bucks and got the vet out there pronto. He could probably have saved the lambs if not the mother. What a shame to lose them all.

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  3. So sorry. We lost a ewe the same way only she was our first. Talking to others it sounds like a vet would have done a C-section… meaning we wouldnt be able to breed her again anyway. We understand your tough call. You have always been very good to your animals and you alone know what is best for your farm. The shame is on anyone who thinks otherwise. Instead lets rejoice for your EIGHTY healthy lambs! Quite the testimony to good husbandry!!!

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  4. HM –

    Thank you for your kind words. I'm going to be putting up a more complete “lessons learned” post soon, because this turned out to be an outstanding learning experience, and I hope it can benefit others. I shared the story with our breeder, and she sent a lot of excellent advice as well. (She was amazed that it took till our 48th delivery to have this happen.)

    Generally speaking, doing a c-section in a barn is an extreme measure and doesn't often end well (for the ewe or the lambs). When you get to that point, the lambs are often already dead in utero from stress. Assuming we even had a vet we could call at midnight on a Saturday, which we didn't. The big take-away for me is to work harder trying to extract the “stuck” lamb, and not to fear hurting the ewe. Saturday night, I was quite honestly too timid and concerned about causing internal damage to Nera. Not getting the lamb out hurt her much much more.

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  5. I don't know…having had sheep for years and had the occasional difficult birth…I would have assisted. I have pulled lambs before that seemed to be stuck tight (difficult and nerve-wracking!) and it always saved the life of the mother, and sometimes even the life of the lamb. After all, if you do nothing she will likely die so why not try? You gotta figure that if you want to keep and breed sheep you may have to assist in birthing sometimes. And for those who say “call the vet! call the vet!” you have to ask them if it is financially worth it sometimes to get a $200+ vet bill to save a $50 sheep and a couple of $20 lambs.
    And why are you not burying her/them? Am I missing something?

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