Monday 12 April 2010

Lambing Problems

When I arrive at work the first thing I do is head for the shed. It doesn’t matter what time of the evening it is, whether I am early for my shift or not. Hours don’t matter to me. I am paid a set amount for basically a 12 hour shift. Should that be an 11 hour shift or a 14 hour shift the pay is the same and the work is done the same.

And so it was this particular evening, actually an hour earlier than meant to be but that is immaterial. I headed for the shed. By doing this I know exactly what is going on and whether or not I can afford a cuppa after my hour’s drive or whether more important matters are on hand.

I cast my eyes over the ewes to get an idea of what, if anything was going on. One sheep had a bloody backside, she was just standing, not lying down or pressing on. Just standing, no lamb with her or anything else. Just standing, with blood on her backside. Alarm bells immediately rang.

Now lambing is a bit of a gooey carry on, there is a lot of fluid and blood involved and it is not unusual to see a sheep with blood on their backside or tail. However it is unusual to see it before they have actually lambed, unless, the lamb is coming arse first.

Breech presentation for them that speak properly, arse first for the rest of us, or even backside foremost, sometimes tail first but for Shep it’s definitely arse first.

The ewe was duly caught and a quick examination did indeed prove that there was the hock of the back leg pointing like an arrow head out of the cervix – not a good position to be in if you’re a lamb, or a ewe for that matter. It was quickly ascertained that the lamb was dead, it had a decidedly ‘soapy’ feel about it, the ewe was quite dry too so lube was required.

On inspection of my hand when it resurfaced from being up this ewes backside I soon realised the lamb wasn’t just dead it was also rotten.

Lube was liberally poured into the ewes orifice, hand followed. For an older ewe she was very tight of the bones. Not a good sign. Finally, after much grunting from both parties, both back legs were visible. Time to pull.

It pays to pull a lamb from a ewe as she puts in her contractions, in actual fact pull isn’t quite correct, you tend to keep up a firm forwards pressure and the ewe does the rest, as she pushes and you keep the tension on, the lamb will finally come out into the world. Unfortunately this wasn’t going to be the case with this sheep.

Dead lambs don’t help the ewe when she’s giving birth, the ewe doesn’t always open up right and due to the lifelessness of the lamb it is of no help to her when she pushes, it isn’t eager to get out there and see what it is missing. So was the case with this sheep. Pulling was needed.

That string that a shepherd always has in the pocket came to the fore, attached to each back foot it was used to straighten the legs out. The top of the back legs are big, doubled up they are even bigger, they have to be straightened out to narrow the body of the lamb.

If this had been a live lamb I had reached a crucial point. A lamb coming out arse first will find its umbilical cord is broken whilst the lambs head is still inside the ewe, it then needs to take its first breath and at this point it can drown. Once its legs have been released it is important to try and get the rest of the lamb to follow as quickly as possible, being drawn out of the ewe in an upwards direction also so that once it is out in the open it ought to be almost hanging upside down in your hand by its back legs, this is to enable any fluids it has picked up in its lungs to drain off as it is brought into the world.

Obviously none of this was necessary with this dead lamb and just as well.

A pull of the string on the legs found Shep with two legs out in the open – quite literally! This is a rotten lamb, they do tend to fall to pieces. The string was then tied around the torso and more pressure applied. Now this lamb was stuck by the ribcage in this ewes bones and the torso removed itself to this point. Shep was beginning to sweat. You do not want to be in the position where you can not remove the lamb as that has only one outcome.
Much fiddling about inside the ewe eventually saw a front leg come out, followed by another, the torso was shrinking all the time until eventually a ribcage and head came into the open.

The whole scenario took over half an hour, the ewe had had a very rough time. So now what?

Believe it or not but I went and got a lamb to set on to her. The adoptive lamb was covered in smelly goo from the bits of lamb lying around and presented to the ewe. The ewe was not keen to rise to her feet and who could blame her, however, enough of her bag was showing that it was possible to suckle the lamb. A huge shot of antibiotic was injected into the ewe to try and prevent any infection. A bucket of water was placed beside her and she was left quiet.

Now I expect you think this all sounds very cruel, this poor beast had had a traumatic lambing, had been carrying a rotten lamb, was worn out and exhausted, in quite a bit of discomfort and Shep sets a lamb on to her.

Sure, it does sound cruel. But bear this in mind, the ewe needed an excuse to live and whether or not she would be able to rear this lamb was immaterial, what did matter was that it gave her a reason to live, she was a mummy, she had something to care for, she had a reason to gain her strength and try to get up on her feet. As for suckling the lamb? Well, being sucked helps the ewe, she can go on and cleanse and close up, it’s all part of the process and after such a tough lambing there is always the fear she may cast her lamb bed (prolapse of the uterus), by being sucked hopefully this may prevent such a thing from happening.

That ewe never looked back, she was on her feet within an hour and within 2 days was in the field with her lamb as proud as punch. Successes such as this make it all worthwhile. That ewe would never have lambed herself, she would have slowly died of septicaemia, due to human intervention she is able to go on and enjoy being a mother.


Unknown said...

what a great story

Tarset Shepherd said...

I always like the ones with a happy ending! Thanks for your comment and pleased you enjoyed.

Unknown said...

I'm relatively new to lambing and have thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog.

Just shows how hard work, patience and care can be fruitful in the end.

Your blog is truly inspirational

Jonica Bradley said...

what is the survivability of a ewe when the stillborn lamb has gastroschisis? the intestines outside of lambs body through hole next to umbilicus? we pulled the lamb, all of a piece, but the stink was horrible. we gave 5cc agricillian. is there something else we should do? no other newborn lambs available. first time lambing for the ewe.