Lambing crash course

The lambing season is over, the last ewe rounded up a shaky and eventful season with an unsupervised easy birth of twin lambs. The ewe was brought into the shed during the heavy snowfall a few weeks back and didn’t seem to be in a hurry and I almost started doubting myself and wondering if she was ever going to lamb.

This year we’ve had three twin births all in all, two went without a bother and one required very hands on intervention. On the day we noticed that one of the ewes was restless, bleating repeatedly, separating herself from the flock, alternating between laying down and squatting.

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Lambing was rounded up with an easy birth of twins.

After a couple of hours, with the help of a good neighbour, we got the sheep into the shed. It was time check her and possibly pull out the lamb. The hours of waiting did not go to waste, I devoured articles on the internet reading up on lambing, birth positions, pulling lambs, sheep anatomy, birth hygiene and so forth.

When it was time to check on the lamb, I had my nails trimmed, arms washed and disinfected, latex gloves on and plenty of lubricant just in case. My experienced neighbour had the sheep pinned in the pen and asked me if I wanted to check on the lamb or if he would, and there was no doubt of my response

“Of course I’ll do it”, I said and kneeled at the back of the ewe and put my hand in to check on the lamb.
“Make sure that if you pull two legs it is the legs of the same lamb and not a leg of two separate lambs,”, says my neighbour and I feel myself blanching. How in the world would I be able to figure that one out?

It resulted in being a very unimportant point, the lamb had his head down and was trying to come out neck first. I pushed the lamb back in, pushed up his snout, got hold of his legs and started pulling. I don’t know why we think we need to pull straight out, with my neighbour’s guidance I learned that I needed to pull down towards the legs.

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The ewe we lost and her orphan lamb.

My mind was incredibly focused during the birthing, I felt no worry or stress, instead images of lamb birth positions and anatomy passed through my head as I tried to visualise the whole process. I also kept thinking of my own experience giving birth naturally to my twins and it made me wince every time I lost hold of the little hooves and had to dig for them again.

The lamb came out, warm from the womb, but we quickly saw it wasn’t breathing. We tried rubbing it with a clean towel and clearing his airways, I even swung it by the legs in a half circle to make sure all the mucus was out. It was of no use; the lamb was dead.

At the time we had an orphan lamb (a story for another day), my neighbour asked me to rub the dead lamb onto the orphan, to see if the ewe would take it on. It was no good and the ewe kept pushing away the orphan. As we were contemplating a second, quite gruesome solution where you skin the dead lamb and cover the orphan with the skin to fool the mother, we realised something.

In the middle of this ER scene from revival tactics to possible organ transplant, we realised we should first check if the ewe had more lambs coming. The orphan was put back in his pen and I prepared for another vet experience.

On with new gloves and as I examined the ewe I felt two little hooves pointing towards the exit. I grabbed hold of them and pulled a beautiful live lamb out. To be sure to be sure, I checked for a third one but none was present.

I fretted for days that my hygiene precautions might not have been up to scratch or that my lack of experience would result in the ewe would getting an infection or some other horrific internal injury.

We may have lost a lamb, but I am delighted to report that the mother and her second lamb are strong and healthy.

This is the first time I had to pull lambs in such a fashion, and as I have been saying, the more I know the more complicated the farming seems to get.

A busy beginning – the 2018 lambing

Lambing season 18 (Mar 2018)

You would think that I would have written a load of blog entries for this year considering the amount of farming adventures that have happened, but it is just because of these adventures that my time has been eaten up.

We are almost done with our lambing, we have lost our ducks, we have bought chickens and pygmy goats, dealt with a surprise storm that brought a surprising amount of snow. I’ll break all these adventures up into blog entries, because most are unique experiences worth reading about, nothing out of the ordinary for most farmers, but worth noting regardless.

The first twin lambs born this year.

The kids and I were abroad over Christmas and New Year, and we slightly jolted out of our holiday bubble when Kevin called to tell us that our first lamb had been born, a few days after the new year. We fretted slightly as we were not present to mind the lamb, my daughter got reassurances that her dad had indeed put the ewe and new born lamb into the shed. When we got back the lambing came in regular intervals, one ewe after another.

There is a surprising aspect of farming that I had not expected, the more I learn the more complicated it gets. I am able to deal with more problems and issues, but they seem to be appearing more often than before. For some reason we haven’t had much trouble with the lambing previously, but this time round there has been more intervention needed than ever before. As always, the intensity of the learning curve for me is staggering and exhausting.

As we only have a modest flock of sheep, the new born lamb and mother are brought into the shed, to better be able to observe them and to increase the lamb’s survival rate in the cold winter months. Getting the ewe to move away from the birth place is not always the easiest thing to do, but I have over time learned a few tricks. I make sure the mother and lamb get time to bond before I grab the lamb with a bit of hay, which slightly masks my scent, and entice the ewe to follow, stopping every few metres to make sure she gets to sniff her lamb and continue towards the shed.

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Not the best of mothers, but we still got her going.

Apart from the bonding with the ewe the next thing high on the list at lambing is making sure the lamb gets the colostrum, the first milk, rich in antibodies and nutrients. This first milk will define the lamb’s growth and health, and I spend plenty of time making sure the lambs latch on.

One of the ewes was under strict supervision this year, last year she showed a significant lack of motherly dedication when she continuously walked away from her lamb distracted by greener grass, you can read about it in my post “Farming reality slapped me in the face”. The dehydrated and weak lamb died in my arms as I tried reviving it. Looking back at the pictures and knowing how she’s acted this year, I can conclude that she didn’t let the lamb feed enough as well.

The only reason she was kept is that she is one of my daughter’s pet lambs and hand reared by them. As she was a first-time ewe, we agreed that she would get a second chance. So, once she started showing signs of oncoming lambing, she was put into her own pen in the shed. The lamb had to be pulled out but was healthy and strong. I noted that the lamb wasn’t drinking yet but decided to give them the night before I intervened.

The morning after the ewe kept going around in circles trying to avoid the thirsty lamb. When I checked the ewe’s udders and could feel that they were hard with milk and slightly hotter than they should be, intervention was now necessary.

The ewe was pinned against the wall and I pushed the lamb towards the teats. This also not the easiest thing to do, you’d think the lamb would throw itself with gusto and drink up easily: no, lambs dislike being pushed into the teat and you have to patiently guide it that direction by slowly bumping the lamb’s bottom. Thankfully the lamb latched on and emptied a teat but would not empty the other. Fearing a possible infection due to milk stuck in the teat, I had to hand milk the ewe.

Now, let me tell you that milking a cow is a lot easier as you can get a right hold of the teat and use your full hand to squeeze out the milk (see my post on hand-milking Raw milk in the house). You’d be lucky to get three fingers around a ewe’s teat and milking by pinching is fairly hard work. As this milk was possibly high with colostrum it went into the freezer, as a precaution for future complicated lamb births.

Little Emmy  loves visiting the lambs.

I have taken a good few rounds of pinning the ewe, two to three times a day, for us to feel more comfortable that she will let the lamb drink it’s fill. After a few days it was enough that I got into the pen and she’d let the lamb suckle; today I was happy to see that the lamb was suckling away without my presence in the pen. I did have to milk the ewe again, a few days after the birth, and that milk was used to do the white béchamel sauce of a very tasty lasagne. I might not want to drink the creamy and thick sheep’s milk and there would not be enough to make cheese, but I certainly wasn’t prepared to waste it either.

We are still undecided it she will have to go, once she’s out on pasture we will have to continue to observe her unreliable mothering instincts. It is touch and go and would be completely go except for two facts; one, she is one our girl’s pet lamb, two, she actually has really good fleece for spinning and wool projects (read our post on wool adventures, Making use of all my wool). If not for these two points she would be sold as she requires a lot more work. She will not ever be let out into pasture until we are confident that the lamb can almost fend for itself or at least be strong enough to demand a feeding.