Waiting and Watching

After last month’s lambing disaster, we’ve been mulling lessons learned and thinking about what we can do differently going forward.

The biggest, as I’ve noted in comments sections, is not to fear assisting with a delivery. We’ve had so many lambs born so easily, and read in so many different places that Icelandics are known for their easy lambings, I’d internalized an attitude something like the following:

The ewe knows what she’s doing better than I do. Her lambs may start out tangled, but they work it out. Don’t interfere. I’d only make it worse. I’d hurt her, or the lambs, if I try reaching in there and forcing something that nature isn’t ready to have happen yet.

I realize this attitude sounds laughable, particularly after losing Nera last month. But it’s really not much different from the attitude a person might develop if he has “puncture resistant” tires on his car, and drove tens of thousands of miles across all kinds of road hazards without ever getting a flat. Particularly if the driver had never been shown the proper way to change a flat tire, and feared damaging his car if he began wielding a lug wrench and jack willy-nilly. It might be easy to convince oneself that that thump-thump-thump noise isn’t really a flat tire. Because, you know, I have puncture-resistant tires! I’ve never had a flat before! And besides, even if I did, I’d probably ruin the wheel if I tried to change it. And I can’t call AAA, because I’m in the middle of nowhere [our situation regarding veterinarians]. So I guess I should keep driving and hope I reach my destination.

So, after one’s tire shreds to rubber bits, and the wheel grinds to a halt in a sea of sparks…a person might get some lessons in how to recognize a flat tire and how to change one. Which is what we’ve done regarding lambing. I exchanged a number of long emails with our breeder, and she graciously shared a raft of her own lambing horror stores with me. More importantly, she also shared tips for recognizing a bad lambing (the ewe is in active labor for more than an hour without delivering a lamb) and for intervening. My big take-away: don’t fear reaching inside and doing everything possible to wrestle a lamb out. If you wait too long, the lamb will die in the birth canal from stress and oxygen deprivation anyway. And if the lamb isn’t freed, the ewe will certainly die. My attempts at intervention, no matter how clumsy, cannot hurt her more than that.

The rubber began hitting the road last night. We have one more ewe we expect to deliver, Bianca. She was among the very first born to us, and I have a special connection with her. As a lamb, she sustained an injury to her foot and wasn’t getting up to graze. The vet treated her foot, but didn’t expect her to recover; she was having too much trouble standing and grazing or nursing, and just wanted to lay around wasting away. As she was one of our only lambs, and one of our first females, and we were desperate to build our flock, I picked up the gauntlet and trooped out to the pasture several times a day to work with her. Slowly, she made her recovery. She’s been a healthy and productive sheep ever since, and has gone on to provide us with ten lambs.

She got bred very late this year, and we even wondered at one point if she’d been bred at all. But lately she’s definitely been showing signs of it, so I’ve been watching her closely. Then, last night, it was unmistakable: her udder was engorged with milk. She wasn’t in labor yet, but I left the lights on in the barn at bedtime. At midnight, I couldn’t stop thinking about her…so I got dressed and went back out to check. Still engorged, still looking uncomfortable, but still not in labor. My first stop this morning was the sheep area…same story. I’ve been watching her out in the pasture today, making sure she doesn’t spend too much time in places where lambing would be problematic.

No lambs yet. But hopefully we’ll have some happy arrivals soon. And I won’t hesitate to intervene if needed.

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