My 18-month old ewe, Marley, began her labor yesterday morning around 6:30am. It was her first lambing season, and naturally the sheep was confused. As any mother can relate, the first time giving birth can be very confusing and scary, even if we are fully informed. Marley was no different, looking wildly around, standing up, laying down, and whoofing from her nostrils.
As the day progressed, she went into second-phase labor which is active pushing. I am not terribly experienced, but my older ewes are nearly soundless. When a contraction comes, they will throw their heads back and push into the feelings. However, Marley, having no idea what was going on, was roaring. She was scared and in pain, and no amount of soft-talking from me would calm her at all.
After an hour of her having contractions every three minutes, there was hardly any progress. During that hour, I had examined her vulva to find that there was a part of a lamb sticking out, but not the right part.
The lamb was coming out in a breech position, where his rear end (his tail was coming out first) was coming through the birth canal. This isn’t a viable way to give birth. A lamb in what is considered a normal position will come out nose and front hooves first. A lamb can be delivered by its back legs first, but would need assistance.
In this case, the lamb had to be pushed back into the sheep so that the back hooves could be found and then pulled out. It’s messy, and it is seriously painful for the mother ewe. However, without this process the lamb and ewe would die.
The ram lamb was delivered, shockingly, alive. I had assumed that after that long of a labor and that strenuous of a birth, he would have been dead. His sister was delivered immediately afterward.
The little girl immediately tried to stand up. She seemed to thrive, looking for milk as soon as she was on her wobbly feet. Her brother, however, who had been stuck in the birth canal for quite some time, was hardly even breathing. We tubed his stomach and put two ounces of colostrum in him, but he still didn’t seem any better.
After four hours, he was sprawled on his side, still not walking, not lifting his head, hardly making any noises. I knew he wasn’t going to make it.
Will and Scott went to dinner at Scott’s mothers, while I stayed in the kitchen near the fire, trying to coax him into eating and warming up. Unfortunately, his breathing slowed, and he looked right at me as he took his last, quiet breaths.
I named him Marvel, and then wrapped him in a blanket and put him in a box to be buried.
I am not a religious woman. I believe in science, hard work, and statistics. However, yesterday… I found myself praying to a non-existent or perhaps ancient goddess of lambing. I wanted her to help me do a better job as a shepherdess, I wanted her to help my beautiful Marley through her lambing, and I wanted the little ram to live. The lambing goddess helped me learn a lesson and helped my Marley, but let the little ram go.
Next year, I think I might build a little altar for her, because as much as I don’t believe in the spiritual, something about yesterday really shifted my paradigm.
Marvel was beautiful and sweet and had a short time to be in the world, and I am glad that as a compassionate shepherdess that he passed away in the warmth of a kitchen with caring arms.