When to Call a Vet


Luckily for everyone in Cyber-World learning about sheep, my lambing season so far has been nothing but tough luck. It’s been good for me as a learning exercise, (Though not in a financial way…) to learn all about things like bottle babies (bummer lambs), scours, and when to assist a ewe in labor.

Oh that’s right, last night our flock matriarch, Maisie, went into labor. And yes, you read that right, we had yet another issue which required a vet and more learning on my part.

You may wonder, “What is this woman doing wrong!?” and the honest answer is: Nothing. The two ewes who did not produce milk had mastitis last year at their previous owner’s farm, and have enough resulting scar tissue to prevent them from making milk.

Maisie’s issue was that her first lamb was in a breech position.

Hem hem, allow me to elaborate.

When I got home at noon yesterday, I went out to feed and play with Aurora and Apollo,  and to check on everyone else. Maisie was pawing at the ground, acting restless, with a somewhat wild look in her eye.

If you have a small flock, you tend to get to know your sheep very well. As much as the general public seems to think sheep are all identical farm-animal clones, they are not. I know Maisie, and I knew she was acting out of character. At this point, I knew she would have the lambs within the day.

Her udder, which is naturally very saggy, was on the ground and engorged to the size of a cantaloupe. No worries on milk production here! Maisie is a super-sheep, and super-mom. I’ve had her for three years now, and she has never failed me.

So I noted the time, and checked on her periodically but not too heavily because I didn’t want to stress her out.

Around 4:45 we noticed she was laying down and having actual contractions. She was laying on her side, breathing heavily, and every time a contraction would come, she would throw her head up in the air. This is typical, Kitt was doing the same thing during her contractions.

These sheep made me feel like such a wuss about childbirth, but I digress.

So, I keep checking on her every 15 minutes or so. Her rear is covered in life-blood, (Which is my own made-up term for bright red blood, not the type that is mixed with other things like feces or amniotic fluid, ect.)

Around 7:30 I started to become extremely anxious. I knew that labor could take a few hours, but at this point she was grinding her teeth, and not choosing one spot. She was grunting, pacing, trying to lay down, and squatting like she was peeing. These are all cardinal signs of a ewe in pain.

And of course, she was in labor so naturally she was in pain, but what distressed me was the ease of her past births compared to this one. It should not have taken more than an hour or two once she was in that stage, in my opinion.

So, I called my vet. Who probably thinks I’m a total jerk at this point, because it was about 8 at that time. I told her I would try checking her vulva, but it was just me at the time. I called the vet back around 8:30, and we decided she should come out and check Maisie.

Thank the Gods she did, because it turns out Maisie would never have delivered the lamb on her own, and I would not have known what I was looking for if I actually could get my arm in her vulva. The lamb was breech, with her body folded like a C shape, back pointing toward the birth canal.

Lambs typically present in a diving-like position, with their front hooves tucked up by their noses. Quite streamlined. Not this little ewe.

So the vet pulled the ewe out, who was  small. We ensured she was breathing, and then proceeded to pull the ram lamb out, who was considerably larger. It took a few seconds for the ewe lamb to get up and start wobbling around like a little drunk stuffed animal, but the ram lamb took some seriously vigorous stimulation. We rubbed him, patted him, (Which is a kind term, we were hitting his rump pretty hard,) stuffed straw up his nose to make him cough, and after ten minutes, he was starting to realize he was alive.

It was about 10 degrees out (Fahrenheit) and that is too cold to not get the lambs dried off. I have no problem letting them stay with their mum as long as they are dry. Many towels and a blow-drying session later, the lambs were sufficiently clean and dry to let them try to nurse.

I was feeling slightly gunshy as Scott held Maisie so I could ensure there was colostrum coming out. I was thinking, “If I have two more bottle babies, I’m going to quit raising sheep.” I nearly cried with relief when I emerged from milking her with a handful of creamy colostrum.

The babies were already headbutting Maisie’s chest, legs, face, and belly, as well as Kitt’s. Kitt just gently nudged them away. At that time, I went inside to take a shower to get the blood/birthing fluids/secretions off of me. I was pretty much covered in them at that point. About an hour later I checked on the lambs, they seemed warm, active, and able to at least explore Maisie’s udders.

I took a giant leap of faith, and I assumed they would eat. So Scott and I went to bed.

And this morning, ‘lo and behold, the lambs were dry, walking around, and clearly drinking. Both had warm mouths with pretty good sucking actions. I am so relieved.

I want to summarize some key points, though.

When To Call A Vet In MY Opinion:

– Signs of pain include teeth grinding and squatting as if urinating while in labor.

– Once close contractions start (1-2 minutes apart), if the ewe seems like she can’t pick a spot or can’t lay down.

– Exhausted or defeated looking ewes.

– There is no sign of progression as labor goes on.

Reasons I Called My Vet:

– Maisie is not friendly. Typically, if she is laying down and I approach her, she immediately gets up and stamps her feet at me. When I went in to inspect her, she didn’t even seem to notice me. I could hardly get her to stand.

– Four hours went by and this veteran mama had absolutely nothing to show for it.

– Her hind end was covered in life-blood, but no fluids of any sort.

– She was grinding her teeth constantly, not just as contractions came.

– She couldn’t pick a spot. No place seemed comfortable for mer.

– I could not get a hold of her to do an examination of her, and someone needed to.

What it Cost Me:

– My pride. I thought I knew what to do, and I didn’t. Though, I did know when to call the vet, luckily.

– $60 for a farm-call from my vet.

– Many towels.

What Happened Because I Called The Vet:

– My matriarch ewe is still alive.

– The two lambs she gave birth to are alive.

– The vet explained to me exactly how to help her next time.

– I got to sleep with a sense of peace because I knew the lambs and ewe were healthy.


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